The Science of Cuteness
The New York Times examines the science of cuteness this week. Or it sort of does.
After the jump, I critique the article, then cave in and explore what it means to be cute (with photos).
The only time scientists are quoted, they don't discuss science, they just speculate about their personal opinions. When the author, Natalie Angier, actually makes scientific claims, she repeatedly writes "scientists say" and "studies show," but, in the fine tradition of Jayson Blair, she doesn't properly cite a single one of these ostensible sources by name. There's no reason this article couldn't have been published in Vogue ("Seven Things Your Man is Hardwired to Find Cute") or Teen People ("Why Are Pandas So Adorable?").
But if taken as a lighthearted piece of fluff, it's kind of fun. Her basic premise makes sense to me, that being cute basically amounts to resembling babies. "Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say."
I don't know about her pseudo-Darwinian explanation about us "evolving" this response to protect defenseless babies (she doesn't even address the possibility that the cute-response might be formed by culture, or partially by culture), but she makes a good case that things that are generally called cute are things that resemble infants.
Here, then, according to Ms. Angiers and numerous anonymous "scientists" who conduct "studies," are the factors that go into cuteness:
and, in addition to the traits in blue circles,
Floppy, Uncoordinated Limbs
Eyes Set Low on Head
As I was reading through the list, certain things suddenly started resonating. Round face, awkward limbs, low-set eyes, roly poly body, teeter-totter walk: could it be?
The childhood full of total strangers feeling that it was appropriate to actually touch my face. The lifetime of girls instantly mothering me. The adulthood of lovers who always seem to want to cuddle.
Cuteness, c'est moi!
Judge for yourself. I think that in my case the relevant paragraph from Angier's article is the following:
Cuteness is distinct from beauty, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.
Tags: science, Tai Shan, culture, cute, mary kate