A distinctive feature of humans is that we are born “prematurely”. Giraffes are able to stand, walk and run within hours after birth. Humans aren’t able to move independently for 9-10 months, until they first begin crawling.
The traditional explanation is that natural selection favoured “premature” childbirth to accommodate for both our large brain size and upright locomotion. In short, humans have big brains, but in order to walk upright the human pelvis must remain narrow. At birth, our brains are less than 30 percent of adult brain size and continue their development outside of the womb - nearly doubling in the first year!
As a result of this prematurity, human babies enter the world utterly dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. Such an extended period of dependency makes being cute essential for survival. Our “cute-ness” helps to promote social bonds by attracting caregivers to their infants and vice-versa.
Cute babies capture our attention on an instinctive level – neuroscientists have demonstrated that when adults view images of cute babies, it activates pathways in the reward centres of our brains.
The research is in – cute babies are hard to ignore, our brains are wired this way!
References: Berridge & Kringelbach (2008). Affective neuroscience of pleasure: Reward in humans and animals. Psychopharmacology,199, 457-480.