Children detect 'cute' features to win favour
Children as young as three recognise "cute" features that encourage care-giving in adults, a study has found.
Even before they start school, children rate puppies, kittens and babies as "cuter" than their adult counterparts.
Cuteness is wrapped up in what psychologists call "baby schema" - a set of infantile features such as a round face, high forehead, big eyes and a small nose and mouth.
Baby schema has been shown to stimulate protective, care-giving behaviour and reduced aggression in adults.
Marta Borgi from the University of Lincoln who led the new research said: "We already knew that adults experience this baby schema effect, finding babies with more infantile features cuter.
"Our results provide the first demonstration that a visual preference for these traits emerges at a very early stage.
"Independently of the species viewed, children in our study spent more time looking at images with a higher degree of these baby-like features."
The researchers conducted two experiments with children aged three to six. One tracked eye movements to see which facial areas children were drawn to. The other assessed how cute children rated animals and humans with infantile traits.
Images of human adults and babies, dogs, puppies, cats and kittens were digitally manipulated to make them appear more or less cute.