Science has explained why humans find kittens so darned cute.
Kittens are adorable. They’re like the universal metric by which we should all measure cuteness. How cute is that puppy? “Well, maybe two-and-a-half kittens.” How cute is that miniature pony? “About 6 kittens.” See? Works like a charm.
By why do humans from around the globe consider kittens to be so freakin’ cute? On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Kittens are tiny balls of murder, with razor-sharp claws that can tear through skin and upholstery with the exact same ease. They get into all sort of mayhem, often destroy multiple indoor plants, and yet we still scoop them up like the most precious thing in the world.
Why do we do it? Well, a new article from The Guardian asked that question to everyone’s favorite search engine, Google, and received a pretty solid set of scientific studies that go into detail just why we think kittens are so adorable.
There are two major reasons. The first is somewhat obvious: kittens have soft fur.
It’s a little like calling the sky blue, but there’s more explanation. Primates (of which humanity is still a part of) like to groom. Social pressures make grooming someone other than a partner a faux pas, but this doesn’t mean we don’t get an instinctive thrill whenever we run our hands through something soft and furry.
This isn’t unique to kittens: dogs, gerbils, and even fluffy birds can have the same response. It also explains why most people think that lizards and snakes are most certainly not cute. Tarantulas are furry, but it’s more the kind that irritates your skin--you can’t really pet a tarantula.
The second reason has to do with research performed by Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz, considered one of the fathers of ethology (which is the study of animal behavior). Lorenz found that the more something resembles a human baby, the cuter we think it is. This means having large heads and eyes in comparison with the rest of their bodies--like a human baby.
Why this happens is still debated, but it’s believed that when an animal has the same dimensions and features of a baby, it hijacks a neurological response to care and protect the creature. After all, babies are essentially helpless and need constant care. Kittens aren’t nearly as helpless, but they look it, so we cuddle them to within an inch of their lives.
So there you have it: kittens are cute because they’re soft, have baby-like features, and humans have a deep-seated need to pet soft things. Not exactly a surprising outcome, but at least we know why we let that little monster get away with literal murder.