This Is Why Tiny Things Make Us So Happy
Have you ever found yourself wandering the kitchen supplies section and gravitating toward exceptionally small whisks or spatulas, wondering how anyone could possibly find a use for them—and yet, feeling strangely compelled to buy them? Or maybe you don't consider yourself a "baby person," but find yourself letting out an involuntary squeal upon holding your friend's child for the first time and noticing its tiny fingers and toes? If so, you—like many other people on this planet—have been on the receiving end of the effects of cuteness psychology.
The "psychology of cuteness" might sound made up, but it has roots in research going back more than 70 years. Here's what to know about the science of cuteness and why tiny objects—both natural and artificial—have the ability to make us happy and comforted.
The Origins of Cuteness Psychology
Even if you don't recognize his name, you're probably familiar with the work of Konrad Lorenz, a German ethologist who introduced the concept of the baby schema ("Kindchenschema") in 1943. The "baby schema" is the theory that certain physical features that are typically associated with babies—like a round face and big eyes—are so irresistibly cute to humans they will prompt us to not only feel delight, but actually desire to take care of someone or something.
"The psychology of cuteness is the idea that we find things cute that require parental care," Amanda Levison, a licensed professional counselor from Neurofeedback and Counseling Center in Harrisburg, Penn., tells Real Simple. "This happens to elicit a response out of us to take care of the babies or baby animals that need to be taken care of. Seeing something small and cute stimulates bonding behaviors and the need to take care of it and protect it."
And while this tidy evolutionary explanation makes sense, our attraction to small objects isn't entirely a result of a primitive desire to act as a parent and/or do our part to propagate the species. In fact, more recent research has indicated that our reaction to cuteness isn't necessarily directly related to some sort of instinctual need to nurture, but rather more of a general, positive feeling that can influence how we socially interact with other people. Here are some of the ways that can play out.