Why Are Cats So Cute?

We all know this. Even dog lovers are not immune to the inherent charm of our feline friends. But why exactly are cats so cute in our human eyes? Well, it's a bit more complex. Science has some some ideas – and so do we.
an orange kitten hiding under a blanket | kittynook

It is true: cats are indeed overflowing with cuteness.

We all know this. Even dog lovers are not immune to the inherent charm of our feline friends. But why exactly are cats so adorable in our human eyes? Well, it's a bit more complex. The human brain is mysterious, especially when faced with extreme cuteness. So, what's the deal behind the cat's cuteness? Science has some ideas – and so do we.

Defining Cuteness

a kitten sitting in a cardboard box on a white bed | kittynook

First things first: What is "cuteness," anyway?

Merriam-Webster defines "cute" as "attractive or pretty, especially in a childish, youthful, or delicate way." Although this definition may appear to be based on personal opinion, scientists have made efforts to scientifically define cuteness over time.

In 1943, the "baby schema theory" was first introduced by Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian ethologist. According to Lorenz, humans naturally find infantile features like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and small mouths charming or "cute." This instinct motivates adults to take care of babies, even when they are loud, odorous, and irritable, ultimately improving the species' survival chance.

In short, the baby schema characteristics are what attracts the brain when you come across something cute – and why kittens and puppies are scientifically more adorable than babies.

The Human Brain on Cute Features

a kitten playing with a piece of yarn | kittynook

This groundbreaking study shows that when humans gaze at an infant's face, the brain processes it differently than when an adult's face is examined.

When looking at an adult, the retina of the eyes immediately sends signals to the back of the brain, where it processes and interprets the information. The fusiform face area of the brain (FFA) is specifically responsive to faces. In contrast, when looking at babies, the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with emotions and pleasures, shows activity along with the fusiform face area.

This is how adorable infants effectively have a rapid and unique way of accessing our awareness. They capture our attention so swiftly that you aren't even aware of it yet - within a seventh of a second of seeing a baby, you experience a surge of brain activity signaling, 'Wow, that's a baby! I must nurture it!'

Humans have an inherent reaction to what we define as 'cuteness' because we are born prematurely. Unlike most animals, we cannot walk immediately after birth and require significant care. Therefore, our young must be endearing to receive the care they need.

This hypothesis goes beyond mere speculation. Thanks to the advancement of new brain-scanning methods—such as magnetoencephalography (a neuroimaging technique that tracks the brain's activity in milliseconds using magnetic fields)—scientists have acquired a remarkable understanding of how our innate response to cuteness operates.

A cuteness rating system has been created by researchers, which is based on objective measurements such as the ratio of forehead to overall face, chubby cheeks, and the size of the eyes.

When you're a baby, you are considered very cute, but as you grow older, this cuteness diminishes as your proportions change. As we age, facial features no longer captivate us in the same manner – they don't provoke the same selective attentional response.

Kittens Are Cuter than Babies?

a baby is sleeping next to a cat in a crib | kittynook

Remember the scale for measuring cuteness that was mentioned earlier? It turns out that, on average, puppies and kittens scored better on this scale than humans. (For all the dog enthusiasts, it's worth noting that puppies were generally found to be slightly cuter than kittens, with adult dogs also slightly more adorable than babies).

We understand your thoughts on Why humans have evolved to perceive baby animals as having humans evolved to perceive baby animal more delicate features than their adult animal counterparts? One possible explanation is that humans have exerted significant influence over the evolution of domesticated animals, especially cats and dogs, altering their physical characteristics through selective breeding over many generations.

Cute animals like cats and dogs have been selectively bred to resemble infants. They possess large eyes and ears. Upon encountering them, your brain may perceive them as potential babies. Your initial reaction might be, 'Oh, this could be a baby.' You only realize later, 'Oh, it's not a baby, but I should still pay attention!'

How we respond to cuteness is fascinating; it's a trait that serves a purpose for humans and other animals. However, it's crucial to remember that animals do not "make themselves cute" intentionally or with ill intent!

10 Other Reasons Why Cats Are Cute

a kitten yawning on a tile floor  | kittynook

As compelling as the study of cuteness may be, there are limitations to science. How can science explain the tenderness of a cat's ears? Or the vibration of their purring as it reverberates against your chest? Or the twinkle in their eyes as you step through the door? And while we're at it, what makes cats' paws so endearing? 

Based on our investigation, here are 10 other explanations for why cats are so charming.

1. Cats knead such sweet biscuits.

Biscuits are another reason we adore kitty paws! Many cats "knead" soft surfaces, a nursing habit from their kitten days. When a cat "makes biscuits" on their human, it's believed to show affection.

2. They bring us "gifts."

Sure, not all people see headless mice as "presents." However, to cats, presenting a disembodied prey signifies affection. How sweet, right?

3. Their bellies are very rub-able (when they let you, of course)

Cats' supple bodies and snuggly bellies due to the primordial pouch (a chubby area of skin that extends along the belly) are another factor for the undeniable cuteness of cats. There are various explanations for the existence of the pouch, but one thing is sure: it's incredibly adorable.

4. They take napping to the (adorable) extreme.

When it comes to taking naps, cats possess ninja-like skills. If you've ever found your cat sleeping upside down on the refrigerator or curled up on the windowsill, you know how adorable (and mind-bending) it can be.

5. They have the sweetest meows.

Have you ever had the feeling that you are having adorable kitty conversations with your cute kitty using a particular language? This may not be as far-fetched as it seems. While young kittens meow to communicate with their mothers, adult cats use meowing primarily to convey their needs to humans, opting for other vocalizations like yowls, trills and growls when communicating. It's almost as if they see us as their mother (or father) cats – and that, my friends, is the epitome of cuteness.

6. Their soft paws are absolutely irresistible. 

Cat paw pads are perfectly designed, providing shock absorption for high falls and stealthy silence for stalking prey. They're also incredibly adorable. What cat lover doesn't go nuts over a toe bean?!

7. Their tails have minds of their own.

Cats use fluffy tails to communicate through movements such as curling, flicking, or swishing. These cute appendages are not just for show - they play an important role in feline communication, so being attentive to them is essential!

8. They're not shy about wanting pets.

Cats are known for being aloof, but when they desire attention, they are shameless about it, and we love it. Whether forcefully nudging their heads into your hands or rubbing their bodies against your leg, cats are adorable when seeking cuddles.

9. They know when we're sad.

Numerous research has indicated that cats can identify and react to human emotions. However, suppose a cat has ever settled in your lap after a lengthy and disheartening day. In that case, you know that our pet cats possess an intuitive understanding that science cannot completely comprehend.

10. Even their butts are cute.

What makes cat butts so adorable is still a mystery. However, the internet community of cat enthusiasts unanimously finds them completely cute. (It's important to mention that if your cat frequently presents its rear end, it's likely a positive behavior. A raised tail is typical for a cat to greet you and indicates a happy and content feline.)

Why Cats Are So Cute: Mystery Solved

a person holding a small kitten in their hands | kittynook

Cats possess an air of mystery. The reason behind their nightly sprint across the bed at 3 AM and their aversion to a partially filled food bowl may forever elude us pet parents. Nonetheless, we do have some insights into what makes cats so endearing. Now, let's return to our favorite pastime, admiring these adorable animals!

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