The reason why babies and puppies are cute has been revealed by Oxford University researchers who say they evolved that way to survive. Characteristics like big eyes, chubby cheeks and giggling in infants are all designed to encourage others to look after them.
Similar traits in cute animals also serve the same purpose by evoking a caring response.
It is not just visual attributes but sounds and smells that attract care-givers.
A review of the latest studies on the way cuteness affects the brain highlights the role of neural networks involved in care-giving.
Professor Morten Kringelbach, of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, who led the review, said: “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.
“This is the first evidence of its kind to show that cuteness helps infants to survive by eliciting care-giving, which cannot be reduced to simple, instinctual behaviours.
“Instead, care-giving 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.”
Cuteness affects both men and women, including those without children, said the researchers writing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
“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 Prof Kringelbach.