All kittens are cute. It’s almost impossible not to agree. But, what makes them so adorable?
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Kittens are tiny predators, independent-minded creatures with sharp teeth and claws, and an inclination towards killing other creatures and bringing you their bloodied carcasses. What is it that makes us find them so adorable?
The simple question “Why are kittens so cute?” is asked every day online, and in the Guardian this week, a journalist looked at what science has to say about this.
There are three main aspects to this: baby like features, fur, and an enjoyment of play.
Baby like features
The well known 20th century biologist Konrad Lorenz proposed the concept of “a baby-like pattern” (Kindchenschema), a set of facial and body features, that make some creatures appear “cute” and prompt other animals and humans to have the motivation to care for them. Just as babies have relatively large heads, flat noses and prominent eyes compared to adults, so do cute animals like kittens and puppies. You can pick them up, cuddle them, hold them in your arms, and make silly faces at them, just as you do with babies. Humans have evolved an inborn desire to care for human babies, as without our close and continual care, they will not survive. So kittens (and other cute animals) have evolved at the same time to exploit that human desire. Those animals that resemble babies when young are more likely to be cared for by humans, and so they are more likely to thrive in close human company.
Primates – from monkeys to humans – instinctively enjoy the sensation of touching soft, fluffy fur. Think about children and fluffy toys. This may go back to social grooming (like monkeys picking parasites out of each other’s fur). We don’t do that any more, but if you feel very affectionate towards someone (a child or a loved adult) then you may find yourself running your fingers through their hair. We like this automatically without thinking about it. This is partly why reptiles and coarse-furred creatures don’t seem so cute. Feathers are in-between, and fluffy Easter chicks are definitely in the cute category.
Play is an interesting phenomenon which generally acts as an enjoyable way of training for real life crises. So when kittens chase a bright light shone on the ground, or a feathery toy on a wand, they are practicing for real life hunting. Humans like playing too, and we recognise the fun element of kitten play: it makes them all the more cute to us.
Questions about pets from listeners
This week, Pete answered the following questions from listeners on-air.
- I have a sweet little neutered cat named Sigmund, 8 years old, who suffers from recurring scaly pads and bleeding blisters. One pad heals and another pops up. I parasite treat all year round, keep him up to date with his boosters and bring him to the vet when they’re bad but what are they? It is cancerous?
- I have two goldfish and I have to go away for 5 days, is there some sort of feeding tablet I can put in with the fish I can get so they won’t go hungry while I am away.
- We are hoping to get a puppy for our family this summer, we have two girls aged 9 and 11, what small breed would you recommend that would be child friendly,capable of sleeping outdoors (in a garage) with some indoor time also once trained. Also if we have an outdoor puppy are we better off to get two so that they would have company and if so would two girls be appropriate, or would boy/girl get on better? Any advice much appreciated Many thanks Noreen
- We took in a stray cat which pretty much rules the house now,we then got 2 kittens which we don’t allow outside as we don’t think they would survive,is this cruel?
Pete also did a Facebook Live session answering more questions afterwards: you can watch this here.
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