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Why do humans find baby animals like cats, dogs, ... so cute?

As these are potential competitors (when grown up!) or even natural enemies (like e.g. tigers, leopards, ..), the protection instinct (reasonable for the babies of your species) should therefore not apply.

I can't imagine any reason why evolution let mankind adore foreign species that much. Maybe only humans liking the enemy's kids survived, because they weren't killed by the baby's parents.

What is the evolutionary reason?

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You might find this interesting. –  terdon Oct 30 '13 at 2:27
    
Have you tried cross posting to cogsci? This question might throw up some more specific answers there. –  Good Gravy Jul 6 at 20:00

3 Answers 3

In German we call it "Kindchenschema" which is unfortunately translated only to the more unspecific "Cuteness", but sometimes also to "baby schema". This seems to be applying to most (care taking) mammals, also over species borders. The specific looks release hormones in the adult triggering care taking behaviour. This is to ensure the babies safety. That it not only works with the own parents helps ensuring the baby is cared for even if the parents cannot do it themselves. Interestingly, the head and eye shape seems to trigger this hormone release. And it is the same for many animals. Like always, evolution uses the same winning scheme over and over again. This is why you can get a dog to care for abandoned kittens, and why you will find those puppies ever so cute.

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So, you think liking animal babies is a side effect of liking our own babies? But if this behavior would disadvantageous, it would eliminated by evolution. Remember about cuckoo, which hates foreign babies. Obviously, hormones you are speculating about, can be much more specific, causing love to own babies and hate to foreign. –  Suzan Cioc Mar 10 '14 at 12:29
    
The cuckoo does not necessarily hate foreign babies. A young cuckoo outcompetes its "adopted" siblings. It usually wins, because it is growing fastest. And competition between siblings is also found in humans and many, many animals. And as liking other babies might not be disadvantageous, it has not been eliminated by evolution. And, as evolution is random, even if it would be disadvantageous there is no guarantee for it to be eliminated. I am not speculating about hormones, they might not be the only factor, but they are a fact. –  skymningen Mar 10 '14 at 12:51
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In animals having litters there is often one animal which is weakest. The siblings compete for food, warmth, safety. Competition does not necessarily mean active fiting. The weakling of a litter often dies without human interference, or is mobbed out of the group. And of course there is competition between adults of the same species. Just look at humans. –  skymningen Mar 11 '14 at 7:26
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I have seen this "cuteness" releasing hormones statement before. Could you provide a citation? Also, be careful about saying "evolution uses the same winning scheme over and over". Evolution generates winning things and losing things. The winners stick around sure, but that doesn't mean evolution didn't produce "losers". –  Good Gravy Jul 6 at 19:55
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@skymningen I inferred that you understood evolution, but the phrasing could be tidier. I might suggest an edit. That publication is quite interesting. It says that because hormonal women respond more to cuteness and respond more to cuteness when taking hormone supplements, reproductive hormones are involved. They don't tackle the issue of cultural expectation that it is feminine to respond more to cute things. I'll dive in deeper to the data (I'm sceptical about sample size and data collection method). Either way, they present it as a tentative link, not a cause and effect. –  Good Gravy Jul 7 at 8:52

This is speculation on my part, but it could be a sort of hard-wired biodiversity conservation.

And as others have noted, it's not restricted to humans. In fact, this "weakness" to cuteness seems to extend throughout the animal kingdom, especially in mammals. There are numerous examples in nature of one species - even a predator - caring for the young of another species. Of course, there are certainly examples of the opposite as well, with predators killing & consuming young prey on a fairly regular basis. It seems most prevalent in mammals & birds, although fish also have examples.

This "cuteness" factor may be a way of nature ensuring that not ALL young for a particular species are killed off. The reaction to young may be a way of increasing the survival odds for the otherwise defenseless babies.

With humans in particular, there is a very strong psychological reaction when faced with an infant. Even those adults who normally don't want anything to do with an infant will react when they hear (or see) an infant in distress. As a result, a baby who might otherwise die gets cared for.

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This seems unlikely at best. Predators often deplete prey and starve to death, which is at odds with your hypothesis. –  March Ho Jul 7 at 9:02
    
@MarchHo - maybe that particular area had ugly babies? –  Omegacron Jul 7 at 14:30

The only humans survived were those, who liked baby animals. Because that humans domesticated wolfs, horses and so on, which gave them the superiority above other humans.

UPDATE

I assume, that everything what exist, should be approved by evolution somehow. Hence, IF humans actually likes baby animals, THEN it should be approved.

So, I remembered, that humans were domesticating animals and this technology was helping them (us) to survive. Also I remembered, that domestication is usually started with adoption of animal babies. Adoption was occurring by chance, on the basis of non-motivated congenital (genetic) love to baby animals.

So, my explanation is: some of human species were liking animal babies and this caused domestication. Then domestication caused evolution advantages, and these species won the competition with other human species. We are descendants of former species and conserve our sympathies to baby animals. Those who were not liking them -- died millions years ago.

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What's the relation between "like baby animals" and "domesticate other species"? –  Rodrigo Mar 9 '14 at 2:53
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Domestication requires caring when babies. Human species, which didn't like animal babies, didn't domesticate anybody and failed competition with human species which did like babies. We are descendant of latter. –  Suzan Cioc Mar 10 '14 at 12:23
    
OK, you convinced me. Please edit your answer so I can upvote it. –  Rodrigo Mar 10 '14 at 13:10
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Don't see upvoting. –  Suzan Cioc Mar 11 '14 at 17:01
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I'm not sure that we domesticated animals because we found them cute. Could you provide any sort of citation for this? For examples, baby bears are adorable... I wouldn't stick around to domesticate it though! Finding baby animals indiscriminately irresistible, to me at least, isn't a convincing argument that it aided individual/tribal survival. –  Good Gravy Jul 6 at 19:59

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