Which pet looks cute?
That is why we find "ugly" animals cute
Is a frogfish as cute as a kitten?
Some would say yes - but in an ugly and cute way. Ben Patten asked the Crazy Animal Question of the Week, what leads people to think of animals as cute. So we decided to dig deeper into the psychology behind the fact that we love some really weird looking animals.
It found that these are the same reasons we are usually drawn to cute puppies and bunnies: big eyes and heads, soft bodies, and childlike features that trigger the human instinct to care about the object of contemplation and protect it. The Austrian ethologist Konrad Lenz called this a "child schema".
Ugly and cute icons are (at least according to our informal survey) sleepy-looking sloths, doe-eyed goblin lemurs, blob fish from the deep sea, the mushy-looking desert rain frog Breviceps macrops and button-eyed jumping spiders.
The baby-like characteristics of these animals make us think they need our company and care, says Joshua Dale, a professor of foreign languages and literature at Tokyo Gakugei University and co-author of The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness . The aesthetics and affects of cuteness). This also triggers "the torrent of heartfelt emotions that are the reaction to the child schema."
In Japan, the land of anime characters with big eyes and Hello Kitty, the concept of ugly-cute has its own term: kimo-kawaii. That can roughly be translated as "creepy-cute", says Hiroshi Nittono, head of the laboratory for cognitive psychophysiology at Osaka University.
The Japanese, for example, are so fond of the giant ross that they have turned it into a plush toy that sells incredibly well.
According to Nittono, meerkats, Choten-gan goldfish and the club-squirt appear in a Japanese kimo-kawaii picture book.
The main point about kimo-kawaii is that certain animals look repulsive at first, but the viewer "actually finds them interesting, wants to look at them more closely and learn more about them," says Nittono.
He also discovered that our obsession with cute baby traits has an advantage: we pay attention to details.
In a recent study led by Nittono, students who played the kid game "Operation" improved their fine motor skills after viewing pictures of puppies and kittens. If they only looked at pictures of adult cats and dogs, no effect on their performance could be determined.
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