Last updated on July 25th, 2017
For too long science has avoided the meaningful questions of human existence, and the nature of the universe. For too long science has refused to provide useful tools to improve society. Perhaps it is time for that to change. As a small step towards that goal this study will attempt to provide an answer to one of the burning questions that shapes human consciousness: are kittens cuter than human babies?
Battle of Kawaii: A Cuteness Study
The attempt at this lofty goal has deep scientific roots, believe it or not. In 1943, Konrad Lorenz published a landmark study that determined a set of parameters eliciting instinctive parental behavior in humans; he termed this Kindchenschema (probably because he was German, but we’ll never know for sure) . Later studies confirmed and refined this idea , and discovered that there is little difference in this between men and women .
What does that have to do with cats? Well Lorenz claimed that the Kindchenschema was likely a mechanism to elicit parental behavior in many other animals. While this is certainly not a stretch as Hollywood has been using these ratios to make us care about what happens to big blue aliens, for example, for decades; this was actually studied and proven later on .
So now we have both a set of parameters to measure cuteness, and proof that those parameters transcend our own species . This virtually forces us to compare our offspring to those of other animals; what could possibly be more important. The contender chosen for this study is the kitten, formidably adorable indeed. Hopefully our little guys can hold up against such stiff competition.
A sample of pictures (5 each) was chosen at random from the recesses of google images.
6 parameters were measured based on pixel distance in those images, these parameters are as follows:
-face width vs face length (w/l)
-forehead length vs face length (fl/l)
-eye width vs face width (ew/w)
-nose length vs face length (nl/l)
-nose width vs face width (nw/w)
-mouth width vs face width (mw/w)
The mean of these parameters are then compared with higher values being better for some factors and lower values being better for others.
1=face length (l)
2=face width (w)
3=forehead length (fl)
4=nose length (nl)
5=eye width (ew)
6=nose width (nw)
7=mouth width (mw)
Kitten mean±2 standard deviations
Baby mean±2 standard deviations
Better to be higher or lower
* the mean±2 standard deviations should encompass 95.5% of potential variability
The data is clear, human babies are no match for kittens. Kittens decisively triumphed in three of the six categories, with two really being too close to call, and human babies winning only one. A more rigorous study is needed to find just where in the animal hierarchy human offspring fit, hopefully babies are not too far behind.
What can be done about this disturbing revelation? Clearly we must either start breeding uglier kittens or cuter babies. Given the fast generation time cats enjoy, breeding uglier kittens would likely be the quicker path. However, breeding uglier kittens will not help us battle other contenders like puppies or koala babies. I suggest we do both, breed uglier kittens to bring them down to our level while simultaneously breeding cuter babies to be more competitive. This won’t be easy, but time is running out. It is only a matter of time before other animals sap our parental instincts to the extent that our own babies go neglected, a scheme many millions of years in the making no doubt. Luckily it is not too late, but only if we act now.
1) Lorenz K (1943) Die angeborenen Formen mőglicher Erfahrung. Z Tierpsychol 5: 94–125.
2) Glocker M, Langleben D, Ruparel K, Loughead J, Gur R & Sachser N (2009) Baby Schema in Infant Faces Induces Cuteness Perception and Motivation for Caretaking in Adults. Ethology 115: 257–263.
3) Golle J, Lisibach S, Mast FW, Lobmaier JS (2013) Sweet Puppies and Cute Babies: Perceptual Adaptation to Babyfacedness Transfers across Species. PloS ONE 8(3): e58248. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058248
4) Parsons CE, Young KS, Kumari N, Stein A, Kringelbach ML (2011) The Motivational Salience of Infant Faces Is Similar for Men and Women. PLoS ONE 6(5):