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