Why Are Pandas So Cute? Because They Remind Us Of Babies

By Josh Lieberman on October 24, 2013 10:46 AM EDT

panda
People find pandas to be so cute because their features and behavior remind us of babies. Above, a 7-month-old panda cub in Sichuan, China. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A recent study from Oxford University claims that China uses pandas as "soft power influence" to open or strengthen economic ties with other nations. In 2011, for instance China loaned a pair of pandas to Scotland, after which the nations entered into $4 billion of new trade deals. That's right: pandas are so cute and loved that they've become players in the world economy. But why is it that all humans (except this guy) think that pandas are so cute?

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The New York Times explored this all-important question way back in the 1980s (not much has changed in panda-cuteness theories since then). New York University psychologist Edgar E. Coons explained to the Times that humans find pandas so cute because of the "hedonic mechanisms" their features set off in us. Pandas make us think of babies, with their big eyes, round faces, snub noses and relatively large heads.

"We are programmed to respond to these babyish looks," says the San Diego Zoo, an organization which knows a thing or two about pandas. "Babies just make us like them and want to care for them. It is part of our human makeup."

Coons put that idea similarly to the Times: "There is considerable evidence that these things are what are known as innate releasers to our parenting instincts."

Also similar to babies infants, pandas will occasionally try to stand up and then fall down. This attempt at walking, which echoes one of the biggest milestones in a baby's young existence, is almost too much for humans to bear.

Men and women appear to be equally susceptible to cuteness in pandas or other animals. In 2005, the Washington Post reported on the work of Stephan Hamann, a psychology professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., who had done a number of studies into how the brain reacts to pleasant stimuli. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, Hamann found that pictures of cute animals caused increased activity in the middle orbital cortex, an area of the brain associated with pleasure and good feelings. Hamann said his studies showed that men and women experienced nearly identical responses to "cute stimuli," even when men didn't fully own up to it.

According to the Post, other studies have shown that brain activity is even greater in the middle orbital cortex when people are presented images with juvenile characteristics, something pandas have in spades.

With the government shutdown of the panda cam now over, you can once again go check that out to get your fill of panda goodness. Or stay here: what follows is the best video of a panda (other than panda sneeze).

READ MORE:

New Mammal Discovered: Olinguito, A Teddy-Bear-Like Creature, Is First Carnivore Found In Western Hemisphere In 35 Years

Marmoset Monkeys Take Turns When 'Talking' To Each Other, Like Polite Humans Do In Conversation

Rare, Most Complete Baby Dinosaur Fossil Ever Stumbled Upon By High School Student

 

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