Asked by: Arnold Hopper, Swansea
With their big, round eyes, button noses and large heads, puppies share many of the same physical characteristics as human babies. And like babies, as well as kittens, teddies and many cartoon characters, puppies provoke in us an automatic ‘cute response’. They grab our attention, we enjoy looking at them and, at a neural level, they trigger activity associated with reward and also compassion and empathy.
In humans, and other animals, this response is an evolved, innate behaviour that motivates adults to look after helpless infants, and to be more sensitive to their needs and feelings. It makes sense, then, that a recent study found that puppies reach peak cuteness at eight weeks of age, just the time when their canine mothers leave them to fend for themselves.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.