I have no doubt that the cuteness of babies is an evolutionary advantage. So the 'why' is clear, a bit of research also explains the mechanics, such as babies having certain features that trigger hormonal reactions. Therefore the 'how' is also fairly clear.

However, this leaves the question for which I did not really find an answer:

Did babies evolve to increasingly trigger cuteness in the brains of adults, or did adult brains evolve to increasingly get attractive to what babies look like?!

In most cases the direction of influence in an evolutionary process is quite clear (e.g. if the sun is bright in an area, humans adapt to it by getting a darker skin, the sun itself did not evolve to become brighter in area's where people with darker skin live).

However, as the appearance etc. of babies and how these are percieved is actually both about humans (who typically are first babies and then become parents) I am now doubting if babies are evolving to be cute, or if cuteness is evolving to match babies!

I am very curious if we know if the evolutionary influence is a one way street, bidirectional, or perhaps we (recognized scientists) actually have concluded that we have no idea. In case it was not clear I am mostly interested in humans though I guess the question may apply to other races as well.

I did think about other things that are typically found to be cute by humans (e.g. baby animals), but these roughly have the same features that we currently find cute in human babies (e.g. being small) so I don't think this rules out an influence in either direction.

My personal intuition is that babies will definitely evolve towards the general current standard of cuteness, but I would not be surprised if the standard of cuteness also evolves towards the general current appearance of babies.

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    $\begingroup$ Let's please try to be civil as we offer criticisms of questions posted here. Not every question needs to be about everyone's preferred area of biology, I expect that almost everyone who uses this site regularly has some class of questions that they aren't as interested in. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ For OP, I think your question will get a better response if you try to frame it in some existing discussion rather than working from the ground up. Have you found biologists who study "cuteness"? What are the issues they discuss? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds a bit like a chicken-egg question and as such is almost certainly unanswerable. $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen - I used to deliver babies. The ugliest baby I ever saw, a truly ugly baby, went on to acquire two siblings. So I believe you're correct. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse That made me lol. On second thought, that might be just within the past few thousand years (maybe not even the past few hundred). Maybe a million years ago parents did subconsciously neglect less cute babies when times were hard and they were equally healthy. Especially if they became tied with traits associated with fitness and health (things like facial symmetry, etc). I'd guess it goes back even farther. After all, humans, kittens, puppies, and birds diverged long ago and we find them cute. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


Its a lot easier to change how adult brains think than baby anatomy.

Babies are tightly constrained by development, certain things need to grow faster or earlier than other things. This is why most vertebrate young share many of those features. meanwhile evolving a behavior is one of the easiest things to evolve, a huge portion (~80%) of our genome is devoted to the brain and thus behavior. A classic example of this interplay is that it is nearly impossible to keep babies from puking, so the brains of parents react differently to the puke of babies. It is also worth noting non-cute babies are usually suffering from, what would be in nature, fatal defects. It is also worth noting people find their own babies cuter than other babies, which means cuteness is also partially subjective.


If you want a more detailed breakdown you are gong to need to ask a series a questions because cuteness covers a lot of behaviors.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice insight, to be fair I was not sure if I would get any insight at all. Based on the earlier comments I should perhaps keep my mouth shut at a biology seminar, but at the next birthday party where we run out of topics I will definitely pose that it seems likely that cuteness is for a notable part defined by babies, rather than them only evolving towards it! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 10:02

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