Cute study!

By Katie Goldsmith | November 24, 2009 | 3 comments

I hadn't realized how ridiculously adorable any animal could be until my brother brought home his basset hound puppy, Turbo (pictured below). With his big brown eyes, stubby little legs, and ears that dragged across the ground, he elicited an audible "awww!" from everyone who saw him.

Little did I realize at the time, Turbo was probably affecting those around him in another, more subtle way as well: According to a study published recently in the journal Emotion, the tenderness we feel toward things as cute as Turbo is more than just a feeling; it can actually make us more physically tender, helping us take better care of vulnerable little creatures like him.

In the study, psychologists at the University of Virginia showed two different slideshows to undergraduate women at UVA. The students were randomly assigned into a "highly cute" group, which was shown images of puppies and kittens, or a "low cuteness" group, which was shown images of grown dogs and cats. Before and after the slideshow, the researchers measured the moods of the participants. Also, after the slideshow, the participants played the board game "Operation," in which players use tweezers to remove plastic body parts from a cardboard "patient" without touching the patient's body. As anyone who's ever played "Operation" knows, it's not easy—you've got to be extremely careful.

The researchers found that people in the "highly cute" group were significantly less likely to trigger the "Operation" buzzer. Also, they experienced positive emotions like happiness, tenderness, amusement, and entertainment more intensely than the other group did.

Scientists have long theorized that baby animals are so cute to persuade their parents (and other adults) to take care of them. But this study takes the evolutionary significance of cuteness one step further, suggesting that something's cuteness subconsciously causes us to take better physical care of it. "Cuteness does not just influence caregiving behaviors but also influences the ability of one to do so," write the authors. "That is, cuteness not only compels us to care for cute things but also prepares us to do so via its effects on behavioral carefulness."

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Katie Goldsmith is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:


Studies have also shown that when ‘we’ observe what one would consider ‘cute’, oxitocin is released into the body.

I wish everyone could just take a daily dose of oxytocin.  What a wonderful world it could be!

KKJ | 10:52 pm, November 24, 2009 | Link


What about babies that aren’t “cute”?

Edie | 7:37 pm, December 2, 2009 | Link


I’d love to get the citation for the research to read the actual study.  Can you please send it to me or post it?

HB | 5:54 am, December 28, 2009 | Link

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement