Why Are Babies So Cute?

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 2, 2015

A number of years ago I was helping my mother with her grocery shopping. As we turned into the next aisle, we saw a woman coming toward us with a baby nestled in her grocery cart. My mother stopped her. “In which aisle did you get that?” she asked pointing to the baby. “I’d like to get one too.” The woman smiled and a conversation ensued. The whole time we talked, my mother and I kept admiring that baby. We couldn’t help it. The baby was so cute!

enzo browns

This is Enzo. Although he lives in Boston, he’s been a devoted Cleveland Browns fan his whole life–four months!

What is about babies that makes us stop and stare and go “Aww”? In other words: Why are babies so cute? Believe it or not, psychologists have studied this phenomenon. In fact, a German psychologist named Konrad Lorenz identified several traits babies have that we ordinarily identify with cuteness.

1) They have a large head relative to their body size. That’s because a baby’s brain is so large at birth. That large head makes giving birth extremely difficult and painful for human mothers! (This fact alone should make you thank your mother regularly for giving birth to you!)

2) Babies have large eyes relative to the size of their face. A baby’s eyes are nearly full-grown at birth. So we say about the one-year-old: What big eyes she has! But when that same child is a little older, her eyes don’t look as big. That’s because the rest of her body is catching up to her full-grown eyes.

3) Babies often have protruding cheeks. We tend to find chubby cheeks cute.

4) Babies have a rounded body shape.

5) They have soft, elastic body surfaces (Is there anything softer than a baby’s butt?)

In addition babies and little kids do cute things. They squirm, they wiggle, they crawl, they giggle, they toddle, and eventually they say some pretty cute things.

My grandnieces, Marissa and Rebecca. Both were still in the cute stage when this picture was taken.

My grandnieces, Marissa and Rebecca. In this picture, both of them are obviously still in the cute stage.

Psychologists suggest that cuteness triggers our nurturing response. Such a response is essential since human babies demand so much care for so many years—especially when compared to the amount of care the babies of other animals need. Some animals are on their own immediately after birth. (Think turtles and snowshoe hares.) Others are shoved out of the nest after only a few weeks (Think birds). Other animals such as bears, beavers, and elephants have only a year or two to learn how to survive in the world on their own. But not so the human offspring. Raising a child is an investment of years and years of incredibly hard work. Cuteness helps ease the labor involved!

So researchers conclude: Babies are cute because the survival of the human race depends on it! As children age, their cuteness fades. As one researcher remarked, when children turn into teenagers, they “exit the stage of cuteness.”

Side bar: An interesting illustration of the opposite trend is Mickey Mouse. The original Mickey was really more of an adult mouse complete with pointy nose. But over the years he was gradually transformed into a younger and cuter mouse. His eyes, head, and ears kept getting bigger. His limbs kept getting shorter and thicker. As someone said, “Mickey Mouse aged in reverse!”

cute mickey mouse

Cuteness is shared by the babies of other animals besides us humans. Some of the same traits apply:

Is there anything cuter than a baby seal?

Is there anything cuter than a baby seal?

large head, large eyes, roundish body. But the babies of some animals are fuzzy (like the baby goose and the baby seal) which only increases their cuteness!

What does all of this have to do with our Christian faith? The hallmark of our faith is compassion, is love, is the nurturing of one another. But here’s the catch: We are called to reach out to others whether they are cute or not! (Even babies aren’t always cute. They cry and poop alot. That’s not cute.)

Jesus showed us the way to nurture others. He reached out to lepers—individuals who were far from cute. His parable of the Good Samaritan praises a man who nurtured the vulnerable traveler who lay beaten by the side of the road. Jesus encouraged us to care for the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. Hopefully, if we have learned to respond in love to the cute, we will eventually learn to expand our love to include the not-so-cute. Even the so-called ugly or hard-to-love

Today’s song is an old one (1971), “Bless the Beasts and Children” by The Carpenters. But this version is set to contemporary images of refugee children and children in war torn countries. Warning: Some of the images are disturbing, but being disturbed can be a good thing—especially if it engenders prayer and caring. As the song says, the beasts and children “have no voice.” Let us pray that we may continue to be a voice for the animals and for all the children in the world.

Have you had the experience of cuteness triggering the nurturing response in you?

Is your love expansive enough to include the “not-so-cute” or the “hard-to-love”?

What is your response to the song and images?

 

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen November 2, 2015 at 5:21 am

Thanks Sr. Melannie!

I teach college students and at times they can be so wise and at other times they need try my patience. They require an extra dose of love and my prayers.

Thanks for reminding me to be patient.

Kathleen

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Barbara November 2, 2015 at 7:44 am

Dear Sr. Melanie:
What a moving video. We all need to be reminded what is important in life, and there is nothing more important than bringing God’s love to our children and to people in general. We are so blessed to have all we do. We should take time each day to show out gratitude for all we have.

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Doris November 2, 2015 at 9:18 am

A powerful video. I found the stark contrast of cuteness, Mickey Mouse, and this powerful video to be somewhat unsettling — probably what you intended. Though I found the information about babies (human and animal) interesting, I would have liked to see more reflection on the children in the video. I have to admit, though, that your posting has encouraged me to reflect and pray on the matter.

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Jean November 2, 2015 at 9:47 am

Having had 4 children, I could have told you babies are cute so they survive! I am now in my 60s and work in a pharmacy. I see some babies and children, but many older people. I see how many people my age or younger with significant health problems and medications and I feel blessed. Some “old” people are mean and crabby, but most are appreciative of the help and time we give them. I think one of the most important things we need is to be “seen” and recognized as a person, whether a baby or not. Look people in eye, old or young, and you are saying “you are important to me”.

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Patty November 2, 2015 at 11:24 am

Thank you, Sister. The powerful and moving video will stay with me forever and brings to mind of a quote, by Pope Francis, “Authentic power is service.” Let us pray, and help the most vulnerable amongst us.

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Marjorie November 2, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Heartbreaking images.

There is a connection between how we treat the beasts and our fellow humans.

Animals are not well-treated in the meat and poultry industry and that is one reason I don’t eat meat. I am a former teacher. Occasionally students would express laughter at the mistreatment of animals until I pointed out to them that many of our prisoners stated out abusing animals before they abused their fellow humans.

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Tom November 2, 2015 at 9:44 pm

The haunting photos of misery beyond our imagining still often include the hopeful smiles of children. May this spark of divine joy help them survive the trauma of their early years.

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Annie November 2, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Thank you for this reflection and song. I’ve always loved that song. Seeing it with contemporary images is a way of looking at it again. May God bless all the animals and the children—and we are all God’s children. I often pray for both.

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Kim Hollinger November 4, 2015 at 7:45 am

Thanks again for a moving video. I love the children I work with. The song says they have no voice and no choice…how true. We need to pray for them to feel the love of God each and every day. Sometimes our shoulders may feel a very heavy burden, when actually we need to remember that God is the one helping us with that yolk, and his love is certainly everlasting.

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carol November 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

I loved the pictures of the fathers hugging their children in protective ways. We love babies because they expect nothing in return, but depend totally on our faithfulness, just like our Maker.

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Janet Ashe November 5, 2015 at 10:26 am

Dear Sister Melanie, moved me to tears. Thank you for reminding us we all need to take our part in helping. Janet

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