Since the dawn of the internet, the human race has undergone a somewhat bizarre transformation.
When faced with this technological font of all information, a knowledge network holding antiquity, artisanry, astronomy and the many other wonders of the cosmos within its tiny luminous strings, we collectively decided to ditch the mind-bogglingly awesome for the heart-meltingly aww-some.
Result? A generation where ‘cats’ throws up more Google results than ‘the universe’ or Leader of the Free World, ‘Obama’ – 595 million, to be exact. Yikes.
But not to worry, fellow Millenials! Darwin’s got our back.
We’re not collectively dumbing down, spiralling towards the apocalyptic abyss Wall.E warned us about; evolution simply means that we just can’t contain ourselves when it comes to the cute.
Observed as early as 1949, Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz noted that big old eyes, chubby cheeks, floppy limbs and a bumbling, stumbling nature (otherwise known to scientists as ‘Kindenschema’, and to us as ‘omg dats so cute I can’t even’) provoke “caretaking behaviour and affective orientation”. These responses, he argued, are vital in ensuring the survival of the species.
Our inner adorable detector, however, is so sensitive that we’ll happily coo over more than just human babies. Whether its puppies and kittens or spiders and snakes, in the right context, just about anything has the power to get us gushing. As innate as fight or flight, our plight to nurture and nourish our young is so strong that it’s no wonder we see it so frequently manifested online.
Using an fMRI in 2009, ML Glocker found that baby schema (the kind of stuff you’ll find on the “aww” sub-Reddit), arouses the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s “reward system”. More recent studies go a step further, suggesting that our responses to cute images stimulate the same pleasure centres as a good meal, sex or cocaine. Perhaps this explains why so many of us are as hooked on chocolate as we are ‘The Best of Tumblr’ Facebook page.
With companies keen to exploit this intense and addictive reaction in pursuit of profit, capitalism and cuteness now frequently collide in both branding and advertising – think Pampers’ pups and McVities’ kittens, whose employment of the “IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE” principle successfully sells us toilet paper and digestive biscuits year after year. Cute cuts through all layers of meaning and says, “let’s not worry about complexities, just love me”, says Darwinian aesthetics expert, Dr Dutton.
So next time you’re procrasto-watching pet fails or spamming your mates with Slow Loris vids, don’t feel guilty, you’re simply ensuring the continuation of life as we know it… or something like that. Just try not to drop too much dolla’ just because a puppy told you to.