Careful – She’s Cute!
Sherman, Haidt & Coan (2009) have found evidence that exposure to cute stimuli improves fine motor performance. In brief, subjects were exposed to images of cats/dogs or puppies/kittens and then they played the children’s game, Operation. Both studies reported in this paper found that exposure to cuteness increased subjects’ ability to successfully play Operation. Sherman et al suggest that cute stimuli can activate a human caregiving system that would have made essential physical contact with newborns/small children safer. The basic idea is that when a human sees something cute (like a puppy or a baby) a cognitive-behavioral control system is activated that ensures careful, cautious, delicate handling.
- Controlled and assessed other cognitive/emotional influences of the animal images that were presented.
- Authors assume, but do not demonstrate, that the improved fine-motor performance in response to cuteness can lead to improved reproductive success because of the fragility of human infants/small children. This relationship between fine-motor activation and behaviors helpful to fragile children has not – to my knowledge – been demonstrated.
- The nature of human infant/small child fragility is assumed, but neither demonstrated nor made explicit.
Given that feminization of women’s faces is generally found to be attractive, and that feminization can be characterized as juvenilization, this research has implications for the psychology of beauty in that it suggests that cute adult faces might have a similar effect on fine-motor performance/the proposed human caregiving system. Of course, the existence of this system and its putative adaptive purpose require additional research support before the conclusions can be generally accepted. Nonetheless, an interesting first step.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Vargas, 2007.
Sherman, G., Haidt, J., & Coan, J. (2009). Viewing cute images increases behavioral carefulness. Emotion, 9 (2), 282-286 DOI: 10.1037/a0014904
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