The Superbowl of Cute

The Superbowl is no longer just about football.  It has become the Superbowl of cute.  Advertising giants spend millions to produce and air their commercial messages during the most highly publicized game of the year.   This year, the commercial cute factor was super-sized. Almost every year, at least one of the advertising favorites will feature babies, baby animals, or both.  In 2014, Kia Sorento released their commercial, “Space Baby” which featured both.  This year, Budweiser did not disappoint with a tender Clydesdale – puppy friendship called “Lost Dog”.

picture of puppy peeking out from under hay in the horse barn

Laughing babies, frolicking puppies, mischievous kittens – they all tug at our heart-strings.  Why do soft and cuddly things have such a unique effect on us?   As it turns out, there’s a scientific theory supported by research for this reaction.  It’s known as the cute factor.

The “baby schema” or cute factor has deep evolutionary roots.

It should come as no surprise that our preference to what makes something cute has deep evolutionary roots. The “baby schema” (Kindchenschema) and was first proposed in 1949 by Nobel-prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz.   Lorenz studied “cute’ things and began putting together a list of traits that humans respond to as “cute” which includes small bodies with a disproportionately large heads; large, wide eyes; high foreheads; small noses; and soft, round cheeks.  Lorenz’s theory is that whenever we are presented with these features, they trigger a powerful nurturing instinct and the desire to protect our helpless offspring.

Researchers shows that cute images activate the nucleus accumbens or the pleasure center of our brain.  It’s the same area of the brain that is activated by love, sex, music, exercise, and drugs.  When activated, the nucleus accumbens releases the pleasure hormone dopamine.  As a result, our overall stress level is reduced and we become happy, cooing, baby nurturers.

Let’s take this a step further and accept that it’s not just babies that initiate these responses.  Just  like “Lost Dog”, we also transfer these intense responses to baby animals which is probably why we all stop in our tracks to view cute pictures, greeting cards, and other media that land in our inbox.  Instinctively, we might linger on an image of baby bear cubs, but not their adult equivalents.

The cute factor can have such a powerful effect on our brain that it affects what we like and what we buy.  With all the evidence to support the cute factor, it’s quite likely that we will continue to see many more super-cute commercials in future Superbowl games.

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