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Babyishness

Lorenz noticed that baby animals of many species have the same look. Babies typically have large heads in proportion to their bodies. They have large, round eyes, protruding foreheads, soft jaw lines and plump cheeks. Often they are fuzzy, and they have stubby legs. Lorenz labeled this pattern of features babyishness. He pointed out that we respond to "cute" features with affection and good humor, whether they are in human babies, babies of other species, stuffed animals, or cartoon characters.

What is the "babyishness" pattern noticed by Lorenz?


"Babyishness" in different species

Stephen Jay Gould (1979) perceived an evolution toward babyishness in the features of Mickey Mouse. When Disney first drew Mickey for Steamboat Willy (1928) Mickey's snout was long, his forehead was small, and his behavior was aggressive. Mickey created music on the steamboat by pulling tails and otherwise torturing various animals, making them cry out.

By the 1950s, Mickey's behavior had mellowed and his appearance had become more babylike. His ears were moved back on his head (creating a larger cranium). His eyes were enlarged by making the former eye into a pupil in the new eye. The snout was shorter, less rat-like. He was given trousers, which made his legs look stubby. In many ways, Mickey became "babyish" and therefore cuter.


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