The Science of Cuteness

10 May

I’ve been doing a lot of serious thinking lately about why babies are cute. It all started with this poor excuse for a stock image that I found randomly the other day.


Yea. I don’t know what happened here. I think maybe the cute baby had a cold so they had to use the unphotogenic stand-in baby or something. Or maybe the photographer was his Dad or something, you know, in that ‘I really don’t understand how Tori Spelling is an actress oh wait her Dad is famous’ kinda way. And this photo ignited my synapses into an explosion of activity, leading to the creation of a manifesto of sorts.

The Science of Cuteness: Baby Edition, Copyright May 2010, Samantha McCormick. All Rights Reserved.

Puppies, kittens, blind little inchworms patting their heads around on your skin to find who knows what. Fuckin cute, right? But when it comes to babies, it’s not so simple. Take that baby in Trainspotting. Drug-induced hallucination of a swivel-headed dead baby crawling on the ceiling aside, that baby was just plain ugly. Personally, I think it would have been more effective in the creepy department if it was a cute baby such as either Zach or Cody pre- The Suite Life. Anyway. There is a science behind the reason we find certain babies cute, and certain babies, shall we say,’Walmart catalog material.’ Behold, the laws of cuteness.

ONE. Everything is disproportionately small on a baby. (I totally just made you think of his weewee.) Take his little feet, for example. Small enough to fit in that shiny little Christening shoe, or that miniature white Nike, if your child is of the ghetto nature. Then consider his head. HUGE. If you take the size of his little foot and compare it to the size of his head, that’s like a ratio of 1 to 10. Now consider the size of YOUR foot, in relation to YOUR head. Unless you’re kind of ugly or have awkwardly small feet, that’s probably a ratio of 1 to 4. So disproportionately small equals cute (in regards to a baby, nothing else..) Because if babies didn’t have disproportionately small features, they’d be shrunken versions of adults, like this:

Which is definitely NOT CUTE.

TWO. Button noses. At the baby stage, I guess genetics aren’t even factored into the equation yet because I’ve never seen a baby with a huge nose. Not once. Barbra Streisand, Tori Spelling, and Ashlee Simpson were all cute babies, and that’s a fact.

THREE. Baby babble. Cute little nonsense sounds strung together with drool and that little spit bubble that she’ll later amuse herself with during Times Tables drills. Imagine for a moment that babies could speak perfect English. Childbirth is over, the nurse hands you your little bundle of joy, and — “Hey Mom.” Yes, for some reason it’s easy to wrap our minds around the fact that five minutes ago that little thing in blankets was chillin inside a uterus full of amniotic fluid, because it’s like he really doesn’t know any better since his brain is basically mush, evident by the fact that he can’t talk yet. So when you imagine a baby carrying on a full adult conversation, things get a little tricky.

FOUR. The downy little hairs on his head that you just can’t resist petting. Only acceptable on a baby’s head, and only acceptable to pet when on a baby’s head. Because that would be weird if you went around trying to pet girls’ heads, I mean you’d probably exist somewhere as a registered sex offender and would one day turn into a serial killer which the Boston Herald would  ‘cleverly’ refer to you as “The Head Petter,” or something else completely unoriginal. Mom’s just gotta make sure the ‘do doesn’t get too out of control (see Photo 1).

FIVE. Uncontrollable limbs. Babies are automatically forgiven for kicking and fist-pumping at us when we’re changing their diaper because they’re just having a ball trying to figure out what the hell to do with themselves. Like a drunk girl putting on lip gloss, it’s kind of funny to watch a baby reach for something that they want. Reach, miss. Reach, miss. Roll a bit. Get stuck. Haha.

SIX. Poor etiquette. Watching a baby eat is fun.


There’s more where that came from. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Science of Cuteness: Baby Edition. Read my freshly-posted The Science of Cuteness: Part Two. Because this blog post is getting frighteningly long and it’s an hour and a half past my bedtime. Still to come: The Science of Ugly: Celebrity Edition.


79 Responses to “The Science of Cuteness”

  1. JennBerry. May 10, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    Lol – too funny literally laughing out loud :)

    Love that lol Asian baby! <3

  2. Breland Kent May 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    Aw, that is so cute! Thanks for sharing ;)

  3. jenilynjung May 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    This was really adorable! And congrats, by the way, for making Freshly Pressed even with the profanity slippage. That makes me happy.

  4. misskayce May 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    This is very cute and hilarious. Love the Asian baby picture! So much rice yet he missed so much! haha.

  5. Promotional Gifts May 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Soooooo true!I’ve been waiting for someone to explore to science of cuteness. I love a cute baby and I have yet to come into direct contact with an aesthetically unfortunate child above the age of 5. Thank goodness because it would not be a pretty situation(no pun intended).

  6. bookjunkie May 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    love the chinese baby with the rice all over the place.

  7. G May 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Re. point 3 – ‘Mother-ese’ is consistently observed the world over: parents, especially mothers, instinctively teach their babies to speak using the same kind of simplified, repetitive babbling patterns, right across all the varied languages of the world. (“who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy! You’re a good boy!”) So for example, Chinese is very different from English, but you’ll see the same sort of thing going on, with the one or two syllable words, the repetition, short sentences, higher than usual pitch, all that stuff. Funny piece of human hard-wiring.

    What I was just wondering recently is why do some people want to rebel against and subvert cuteness?

  8. melanirae May 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    I saw some Wild Kingdom show once where they discussed why babies were so cute, it basically boiled down to keeping the mother from eating them. punkt slut.

  9. april May 10, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    great post.

  10. Jenny Ann Fraser May 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Hilarious. Can’t wait to hear more.

  11. Chai Benson May 10, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    This is very funny but very good observations. Just some quick, boring facts about cuteness: Babies are socio-biologically hardwired so that people will want to take care of them. Puppies, kittens and humans are all a bit helpless when born and if they were ugly and gross, it might be difficult to feel that urge to nurture and get them to stop crying. Also, babies heads are 80% the size of an adult head…therefore, their bodies have the next 20 years to catch up to that big noggin. Great topic!

  12. thoughtsappear May 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Watching babies eating is definitely great. They always make such messes!

  13. emmalord May 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Do you have any theories on why Asian babies are the cutest? Korean and Japanese, to be specific. It’s just an observation I’ve made, and I can’t figure it out.

  14. middleagedplague May 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Baby babble is cute — I like to call it prattling. Those soft, inarticulate squeaks and humming always make me smile, even if the child is supposed to be taking a nap and entertains herself by making sounds instead.

  15. ichmael May 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    that was a little fun something. great!

  16. Narita Mehrotra May 10, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    LOOL- absolutely true and totally hilarious!! =D

    …can’t wait for more!

  17. humanitasremedium May 10, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Fun post! thanks!

  18. D Light May 10, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Hey Ho Hello,
    I like this posting.
    If you have not read Jerry Seinfeld’s book Seinlanguage there is a great chapter on babies and in it he questions why people go goo goo over babies. It is very funny-
    Since you have a great sense of humor you may wish to check out the crazy images on my blog photos from France

  19. rawrstacie May 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    haha — awesome.

    just to play… devil’s advocate?
    ill pass on this link… from (also about babies… but not their cuteness…)

  20. Promotional Pens May 10, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    I feel like it’s almost impossible to not love the Asian boy! Asian babies are just SO CUTE!

  21. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    CRAP! Guess I got scooped by one of the legends. I’ll def check out your blog!

  22. waywardgraduate May 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    When I see a baby I like to grab them (gently… unless they are one of them Michelin-Man type ones) and sniff their wobbly little heads. And then give them back twice as fast.
    I think if a perfumer could capture that scent one day the world would wake up as a different place.

  23. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Funny that you say that @Emma because I do have a certain fondness for babies of the Asian variety. Maybe a future study…

  24. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Impressive observations @chai. Your comment also made me LOL

  25. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    @melanifhjbg same reason cannibals eat the ugly duckling of the girl scout troop first. Makes sense

  26. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    @G about your last question, I think this is the reason I find it hard to understand why Ashley Tisdale is on TV

  27. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    @wayward I knew there’d be a serial head smeller SOMEwhere in this bunch. :)

  28. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    @Jenilyn thanks !! I’m so honored :) And who said anything about a profanity “slippage” – it was more like a profanity intentional -age hah

  29. Summer Embee May 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Nature knows what she’s doing. If they weren’t cute, we’d all leave them at the nearest fire station under that ‘no questions asked’ abandonment thing.
    Also, I will need proof that Tori Spelling was a cute baby. I do not believe it possible. :)

  30. i_frolic May 10, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    best thing about this: apply the laws (except the babble) to all the puppies, kitties, calves, chicks, colts of the world.

    love it.

  31. ummmmheyyyy May 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    You caught me, @Summer. I have no patience to comb past more than 2 pages in Google Images of Tori Spelling’s weirdo family — so that comment about Tori Spelling being cute as a baby? FABRICATED. I admit it. haha

  32. William May 10, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    When my kids (3) like to tell me I’m old and ugly and my nose is big; I like to remind them I was once almost as cute with a little button nose and have the photos to prove it. They get the drift; like father, like son (or daughter)…..and genetics. Cuteness is a baby’s insurance plan to be cashed in during puberty. Luckily they were all very cute babies!

  33. itzexodus May 10, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    Very awesome topic. I’ve read things about this before and it is quite fascinating. It’s similar to what makes certain faces attractive – symmetry

  34. nikki May 11, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    i had to look up the translation, but generally our ‘fixed action pattern’ to infantile features (as discoverd by K.Lorenz) is programmed in us humans to trigger protection and cuddle reflexes.
    or something like that.
    I get sometimes annoyed by people screaming ‘cuuuute’ at EVERY baby though, when obviously some have the misfortune to be redfaced wrinkled worms, at least at the start.
    funny how a not-so-cute baby in an add (or like in your stock photo) almost disturbs us.
    great post. :)

  35. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    @nikki MAN you are exactly like my sister. Are you sure your name isn’t Jess?

  36. Jim Hagen May 11, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Too bad babies are cute because then people want them and have them and then they grow up to be obnoxious kids and even more obnoxious teenagers and finally adults. Enough with cute babies already.

  37. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    You’re simply a breath of fresh air @Jim

  38. Jodi Michael Horner May 11, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    Babies are cute because you have to fall in love with them in order for them to survive their toddler years! ;-)

  39. Dee May 11, 2010 at 3:18 am #

    All babies are cute. That’s the fact that (I think) we all agreed about. I never thought the reason why, but you reveal some of the scientific secrets of it. Thanks for sharing, and I still surely loves cute babies.

  40. meeshb May 11, 2010 at 3:21 am #

    This is hysterical…and so true. I totally cracked up at “…in that ‘I really don’t understand how Tori Spelling is an actress oh wait her Dad is famous’ kinda way.” Took the words right out of my head!

  41. rubiescorner May 11, 2010 at 4:00 am #

    This was very entertaining. The pictures were adoreable.

  42. neurotype May 11, 2010 at 4:35 am #

    What about the enormous eyes and cheeks? Some people can’t get enough of pulling on them.

    Good thing, too, because if I saw that kind of mess I’d want to put it outside.

  43. The Late Stork May 11, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Very cute pics, nice blog – thanks!

  44. Songbird May 11, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    LMAO! What a great post! Loved the pics as well! The one with the lady holding someone who looks like Colin Firth was particularly disturbing…lol!

  45. patissonne May 11, 2010 at 7:31 am #

    Hahaha! Very funny! And totally agree with you! ;)

  46. krurai May 11, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    I love this post. I call cute little babies ‘squishies’ because all I want to do when I see a baby is give it a huge hug!

    Just a comment on point ‘two’ though, I have actually seen babies with huge noses – in South Africa. Babies with huge noses and huge arses and cant keep themselves up so they fall flat on their bums (which provides cushioning) [and thats without their nappies on]

  47. Jeena May 11, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    I was laughing loud at FOUR. And have forwarded this link to a soon-to-be momma. She should know all about FOUR! And shouldn’t be shocked if there is intelligent words when the kid is handed over to her!!!

  48. limenlemons May 11, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    LOL!!! fun post!

  49. Sai Krishna May 11, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    Good insight on why babies are cute. Thanks

  50. masood May 11, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    awesome!!! :) lovely post

  51. marie May 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    comment tu va marie je te fait d enorme bisous je taime et te souhaite une bonne fete des mere

  52. raisingable May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    The rice photo is priceless.

    I think we’re hardwired to to adore helpless, soft, cuddly little babies.

    When I gave birth I discovered the MAMA WARRIOR inside of me to protect my little chicks.

  53. Kathy Goldman May 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    good laugh to start my day. However, I do have to say that the very newborn look like monkeys.

  54. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    @Kathy, agreed. The vagina tends to be unforgiving when it comes to a baby’s aesthetic appeal

  55. Danielle May 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Lol!! I’m actually due to have my son today, and I’ve heard the thing about babies being disproportionate. What I read said that because baby’s and puppies heads are too big for their bodies, we find them absolutely adorable! haha Really interesting though, thanks for posting. :)

  56. G May 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    I think Asian babies seem cute to westerners because their eyes seem smiley? They have abundant soft hair as well.

  57. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    @krurai I was afraid you were going to say you call them squishies bc of am unfortunate Lenny – Of Mice and Men moment — thank god

  58. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    @Songbord it’s actually John C Reilly. I was hoping someone would notice. I have an obsession with all things and people related to Tim and Erics Awesome Show

  59. Ahmnodt Heare May 11, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Babies are cute because they haven’t gone through life yet. The more life throws at you, the older you look. I read that study in Star magazine a few years ago, so it must be true.

  60. ummmmheyyyy May 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    @Danielle CONGRATULATIONS (ahead of time!) That is unless you are currently the hospital undergoing the miracle of birth as I write this.

  61. Coretta May 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Oh! how sweet! I love your post. CONGRATULATIONS on making Freshly Pressed. I will be back for more. :-)

  62. GraceKay May 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Babies are cute so that we have something good to remind us when they’re giving us a hard time as they get older… (on a different day I may have written something else, right now mine is “bratty boy”)

    You’ve heard it yourself from one or both of your parents… I remember when you…. It usually refers to an ancient time when we were much too young to remember…

  63. stocktoc May 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Hahahaha! Good to know someone else sees the inadvertent humor in stock photos!

  64. ummmmheyyyy May 13, 2010 at 3:36 am #

    Hey everyone – you can read The Science of Cuteness: Part Two here:

    Thanks for reading, everyone! You should probably keep making me lol with your comments. Well no offense to the ones that don’t make me lol, those are cool too. Especially the one from Danielle whose baby was due the day she read it. Congrats if you had him/her, Danielle!

  65. unforgiven May 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    This blog is very good. Thanks for this. I will bookmark this page.

  66. ondiluss May 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  67. ummmmheyyyy May 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    @Unforgiven, @Ondiluss, thank you for the nice words. :) I enjoy writing and I intend to keep it up!

  68. Lorenzo August 12, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    Hey my name is SSG Miranda and I’m currently deployed in Iraq and I just spent the last few hrs reading through your blog and it was thoroughly entertaining. Keep it up!!!

  69. ummmmheyyyy August 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    I’m glad you like it! I know you’ve probably heart it a million times, but I appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made to represent our country.

  70. Baby May 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Great blog! I just added it to my bookmarks.

  71. ummmmheyyyy May 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Thanks! :)


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