When it comes to matters of the heart, there is no denying that puppies and kittens are two of the most beloved creatures on the planet. From the moment they’re born, they emit a seemingly innate capacity to illicit love, admiration, and adoration from humans all over the world. But why? What is it about their tiny faces, playful antics, and velvety fur that has made them so universally beloved? It turns out, the answer may lie in the science of cuteness.
The human connection with puppies and kittens is both a science and a social construct, rooted in our biology, psychology, and emotions. It all begins with their visual cues. From the moment we lay eyes on a puppy or kitten, we are drawn in by their big, round eyes, small noses, soft fur, and chubby cheeks. These soft features are often referred to as “baby schema” and our brain’s response to them is hardwired.
The baby schema triggers an innate response in humans. The response is known as “cute aggression”—a feeling of overwhelming love and protectiveness, coupled with an urge to pinch, squeeze, or bite the object of our affection. This feeling is thought to be a result of our emotional reaction to cuteness, which ultimately helps us bond with these animals more strongly.
The way puppies and kittens move also plays an important role in our connection to them. The jerky, exaggerated movements they make as they explore their new world—like a clumsy stumble or awkward gallop—are amusing to us and can be endearing. This is because their movements tap into a cognitive process called “perceptual processing fluency,” which helps us to process and recognize objects quickly.
The noises they make, like the gentle purring of a kitten or the high-pitched barking of a puppy, are also incredibly endearing. They release an endorphin called oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of bonding and attachment. In addition to this, research shows that merely hearing the sound of a puppy or kitten can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
The science of cuteness also applies to other animals. Many species of wildlife, such as deer and otters, possess the same baby schema features that make puppies and kittens so beloved. However, the unique combination of these features in puppies and kittens is what makes them so special.
Regardless of the science, there is no denying that puppies and kittens have a special place in our hearts. From the moment they enter our lives, they bring us joy, comfort, and companionship. As long as there are puppies and kittens, we are sure to remain enchanted by their cuteness.