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Uploaded:2012-09-04
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Hank talks about three scientific reasons why cute things make us a special kind of crazy.

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(0:05) I'm sure you've noticed that babies are frickin' cute. Like baby people, but also, like baby dogs and cats and pygmy hippos and dolphins. Well, there are some ugly babies, but as a general rule, they are adorable, and cute stuff makes people a special kind of crazy. And we'd be horrible scientists if we didn't ask why.

(0:21) Let us begin with what it is that we find so cute about babies. They've got big eyes smack in the middle of a fat face and thick, short, clumsy limbs. Doesn't sound that cute when you say it, but baby humans didn't evolve to be cute. We evolved to think baby humans are cute. We instinctively find that collection of characteristics I just described to be totally irresistible because, from an evolutionary standpoint, babies are the main reason we exist.

(0:46) 1. They are the embodiment of our genes surviving another generation. So, of course, we think our babies are cute because we have to have some motivation for keeping them alive for years and years and years.

(1:00) 2. Which brings me to the second advantage for humans finding babies to be so irresistible: It takes friggin' forever to raise one of those things. Human babies are not alligator babies. We don't produce, like, dozens of them and then let them fend for themselves after hatching. We have to teach our kids all kinds of pretty hard stuff, like complicated social behavior and language and the rules of canasta. Why it is that human babies are so underdeveloped is a topic for another episode, but the point is that they've gotta be waited on hand and foot until they're big enough to learn all this stuff, gain emotional intelligence, hit puberty, and then run away from home with the bassist from The Lemonheads.

Also, it's important to note that the older the kid gets, the less cute it looks to an adult, and the less cute it is, the closer it is to being ready to leave the nest. So yeah, that all makes sense, but why does a human baby look cute to an adult that's not its parent?

(1:46) 3. Well, it's a big benefit for a highly social animal like us to be able to leave a baby with a friend who also thinks it's super cute so that we can go off and find food or whatever, and not worry that they're going to neglect it or eat it or something. And, of course, the big eyes and big heads and tiny babies are common to pretty much all mammalian juveniles, so a lot of baby animals make a squee at the adorbs and whatnot. It's not just humans. Other adult animals often demonstrate a weakness for babies, too. Koko the gorilla has adopted several different kittens over the years, and she just snuggles them. And though it is highly unusual for animals other than humans to adopt pets, a couple of years ago, a female gorilla at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago protected a three-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit from the seven other gorillas in the enclosure, and cared for him until the paramedics arrived, something she may not have done for an adult human. 

(2:33) So, there, all of the squee of cuteness explained simply by understanding evolution. Except for my own cuteness, of course, which is something science could never explain.

(2:44) Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow. If you have questions about cuteness, you can leave them in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter. Also, please suggest ideas for other stuff we might wanna cover in the future. And if you wanna keep getting smarter with us, go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe. We'll see you next time.