Why Babies Turn us to Mush

When you have your own baby, or see someone else’s, it is natural to think they are incredibly cute and have an irresistible urge to hold them. People are also naturally protective of babies. This interesting phenomenon is not limited to human babies. It seems that we are pretty determined to take care of anything that exists in its infant state. This includes puppies, kittens, and horses. Nature is geared towards survival. Infants persevering to adulthood ensures that they can reproduce and carry on the human race. There are few things about babies that scientists think set off our brains, and they think it related to survival of the species.

The Features

There are certain features that contribute what we call “cute.” These features are present on human babies and animals. They include craniums that seem to push forward and large eyes. Studies have shown that animals with smaller eyes and longer faces do not trigger the same feelings. The jawline also looks different as the rest of the face begins to change. Babies appear to have large eyes because they remain the same size throughout the lifetime. When you look at an infant skull, the eye orbits look much bigger in comparison to the rest of the skull.

The skin is also very elastic in young babies. Their skin is in the perfect position. As you age, the skin on the face begins to sag. The eyebrows drop down, making the eyes look smaller. Humans were studied in a lab and given pictures of “cute” babies to look at. The brain activity of the orbital frontal cortex increased. It is also interesting that this action seems to persist across cultures. These features continue for longer than they do in most other species, prompting care for quite some time. The brain arrives at its full size, with the body less than halfway there. This leaves the large head noticeable.

The Name and Studies

Someone, of course, came up with a name for all of this. The scientist, Konrad Lorenz, called it baby schema. He seemed certain it was nature’s way of getting adults to care for children, resulting in survival. He theorized it as an evolutionary adaptation in the year 1949. Doug Jones, an anthropology student, gave his explanation of the skeletal shape that accompanied young children. Lorenz’s theories drew some proof from various studies that resulted in adults of both genders responding to pictures of infants. Females seemed more in tune to detailed changes.


Women’s response varied somewhat depending on their hormonal state. Women that had not yet reached menopause were more in tune with the appearance of a baby than those that were past this change in life. A rise in hormones from birth control methods also made women more alert to the presence of the triggering physical features.


As kids grow into teenagers, these features soon become more adult-like. The behavior of children seemed to also play a part. The facial proportions that more closely resembled adult features were accompanied by more negative treatment in a 1984 study. Kids that were the same age, but had different features, experienced different treatment. If there were two children in the study of the same age, but one had more baby-like features, they reported better treatment over the years. The ones with more adult features often experienced abuse.

The caretaking treatment of infants also did not show specific to mothers and their own children. The trigger was present whether the adults were relatives of the babies or not. The defining factor of how much attention a baby received showed more related to the amount of baby schema features on each particular child. This shows that appearance is a big part of natural selection. This phenomenon even affected which babies without homes were more likely to be adopted.

Appearance seems to be a large part of our lives, even as adults. There are biological reasons why we are attracted to certain human forms. The look of babies triggers something in the adult brain that makes them want to care for them. Even older children with a more infantile looks showed that they received better care than their older looking counterparts. The mind responds when care is needed.

Editor's Picks

Lee has one of the most genuine smiles you have ever seen. His warm smile, and friendly personally give evidence of just how much joy he finds in his research. He has worked on numerous projects, which seek to learn more about terrible illnesses, with the hope of learning how to eradicate them altogether. Lee is also a huge basketball fan and is often found shooting hoops whenever he is not buried in a pile of books in his lab. He also makes time to coach at-risk youths and finds ingenious ways to remind them of the beauty of science even while they play around.

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