Summary: A new study reports that babies characteristics contribute to their cuteness, and that can trigger caregiving behaviors in adults.
Source: Oxford University.
Babies appeal to all our senses and even smell cute, triggering key parental behaviors.
What is it about the sight of an infant that makes almost everyone crack a smile? Big eyes, chubby cheeks, and a button nose? An infectious laugh, soft skin, and a captivating smell? While we have long known that babies look cute, Oxford University researchers have found that cuteness is designed to appeal to all our senses.
They explain that all these characteristics contribute to ‘cuteness’ and trigger our caregiving behaviours, which is vital because infants need our constant attention to survive and thrive. The study is published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Morten Kringelbach, who together with Eloise Stark, Catherine Alexander, Professor Marc Bornstein and Professor Alan Stein, led the work in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.’
Reviewing the emerging literature on how cute infants and animals affect the brain, the Oxford University team found that cuteness supports key parental capacities by igniting fast privileged neural activity followed by slower processing in large brain networks also involved in play, empathy, and perhaps even higher-order moral emotions.
The data shows that definitions of cuteness should not be limited just to visual features but include positive infant sounds and smells. From an evolutionary standpoint, cuteness is a very potent protective mechanism that ensures survival for otherwise completely dependent infants.
Professor Kringelbach said: ‘This is the first evidence of its kind to show that cuteness helps infants to survive by eliciting caregiving, which cannot be reduced to simple, instinctual behaviours. Instead, caregiving involves a complex choreography of slow, careful, deliberate, and long-lasting prosocial behaviours, which ignite fundamental brain pleasure systems that are also engaged when eating food or listening to music, and always involve pleasant experiences.’
The study shows that cuteness affects both men and women, even those without children.
‘This might be a fundamental response present in everyone, regardless of parental status or gender, and we are currently conducting the first long-term study of what happens to brain responses when we become parents.’ said Kringelbach.
About this psychology research article
Funding: This study was funded by European Research Council, Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust,Barclay Foundation, Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Danish National Research Foundation.
Source: Tom Calver – Oxford University Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to NeuroscienceNews. Original Research: Abstract for “On Cuteness: Unlocking the Parental Brain and Beyond” by Morten L. Kringelbach, Eloise A. Stark, Catherine Alexander, Marc H. Bornstein, and Alan Stein in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Published online May 19 2016 doi:10.1016/j.tics.2016.05.003
Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Oxford University. “Baby Face: Parental Behaviors Triggered by Cuteness of Babies.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 6 June 2016. <https://neurosciencenews.com/fiber-aging-neuroscience-4476/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Oxford University. (2016, June 6). Baby Face: Parental Behaviors Triggered by Cuteness of Babies. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved June 6, 2016 from https://neurosciencenews.com/fiber-aging-neuroscience-4476/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Oxford University. “Baby Face: Parental Behaviors Triggered by Cuteness of Babies.” https://neurosciencenews.com/fiber-aging-neuroscience-4476/ (accessed June 6, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
On Cuteness: Unlocking the Parental Brain and Beyond
Cuteness in offspring is a potent protective mechanism that ensures survival for otherwise completely dependent infants. Previous research has linked cuteness to early ethological ideas of a ‘Kindchenschema’ (infant schema) where infant facial features serve as ‘innate releasing mechanisms’ for instinctual caregiving behaviours. We propose extending the concept of cuteness beyond visual features to include positive infant sounds and smells. Evidence from behavioural and neuroimaging studies links this extended concept of cuteness to simple ‘instinctual’ behaviours and to caregiving, protection, and complex emotions. We review how cuteness supports key parental capacities by igniting fast privileged neural activity followed by slower processing in large brain networks also involved in play, empathy, and perhaps even higher-order moral emotions.
The parent–infant relation is fundamental to infant survival and development.
Cuteness has emerged as an important factor for attracting caregiver attention and affection.
Cuteness is not limited to visual infant features, but is also found in positive sounds and smells.
Neuroimaging has started to identify how survival-related infant-positive and negative stimuli elicit core affective brain activity through fast attentional biasing and slow appraisal processes.
Beyond caregiving, cuteness has a key role in facilitating social relations, pleasure, and well-being, as well as increasing empathy and compassion.
“On Cuteness: Unlocking the Parental Brain and Beyond” by Morten L. Kringelbach, Eloise A. Stark, Catherine Alexander, Marc H. Bornstein, and Alan Stein in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Published online May 19 2016 doi:10.1016/j.tics.2016.05.003