Cats and dogs are necks in the neck in the race to see what animal is the world’s most popular pet. But to cat people, cats are the ultimate companion animal – no contest.
Why are cats so cute? The truth is, non-cat people don’t get it and cat people can’t get enough of their feline friends.
But science has some interesting things to say about why people find some things a lot cuter than others.
In this article, learn what researchers have to say about why cats are so cute and why people who love cats can’t seem to resist them.
Why Are Cats So Cute
Scientists theorize that the reason cats are so cute is because of their facial appearance and their underlying structure.
People are evolutionarily wired to find faces with large eyes and a large head irresistible – a biological phenomenon called the “baby schema” according to Pop Science.
Watch Cats Being Cute
This short YouTube video shows cats at their cutest, at least from the owner’s perspective. But do cats know that people think they are cute?
This video suggests they do not. However, science suggests otherwise – read on to learn what researchers have to say about why humans find certain things cuter than others.
What Makes Cats Look Cute
Ask a cat lover this question and you might hear all about a cat’s adorable eyes, cute paws, fluffy tail, and soft furry body.
But from a scientific perspective, humans have likely had a lot to do with why modern pet cats look the way that they do.
Squished in flat cat faces are appealing
Quartz explains that domestic breeding programs have refined the facial features and characteristics of many popular cat breeds.
For example, several popular modern cat breeds have squished in faces (the proper term is brachycephalic) even though this facial shape is known to cause a variety of lifelong health problems for the cats, as The Dodo explains.
These cats can develop severe respiratory, gastrointestinal, and ocular issues because the flat facial structure of the skull reduces available room for everything that has to fit in there.
Yet the truth remains that humans like cute baby faces and cats with this facial shape continue to be in demand. In fact, a researcher named Konrad Lorenz named this preference “kindchenschema.”
Like human infants, cats have faces where the eyes seem bigger than the whole rest of the face combined. And human infants also have larger heads for their body size. So when a human brain looks at a cat’s face, they are genetically programmed to adore it.
Cat facial expressions help the cats get what they want
iCatCare charity highlights an important research study that links feline facial expressions to human responses.
This is more important and impactful than it may sound.
As Treehugger points out, cats have 32 muscles in their ears alone! Those muscles help the cat to do two amazing (and adorable) things: rotate their ears 180 degrees and move each ear independent of the other ear.
While the study did not link cat facial expressions to how quickly shelter cats were adopted, what the study did point out is that cats have specific ways to communicate with their people using ear and whisker position, eye shape, and stance, among others.
So a cat that wants its human to do something specific can readily adjust their appearance to bring about the desired outcome and repeat this behavior as needed.
Cuteness Responses Are Hard-Wired Into the Human Brain
Trends in Cognitive Science explains another important facet of why people perceive cats as being so cute.
Kittens in particular tend to be sweet-smelling with soft voices and very soft and furry bodies.
Konrad Lorenz’s kindchenschema response extends beyond simple facial appearance and head size to include infant sounds, smells, and softness.
Kittens in particular fit the bill for all of the kindchenschema attributes. Just looking at a soft and furry meowing kitten can potentially activate a deep neurological instinct to nurture and cuddle the kitten.
And as The Guardian explains, there is also research suggesting that the soft fur of cats and kittens kindles the social grooming instinct in our primate brains.
Perhaps modern humans do not sit around running our fingers through each other’s hair or trading back-scratching sessions. But this behavior is still both common and essential for health and social bonds in our closest primate relatives.
Cute Cats Can Cause Cuteness Aggression in People
As NPR reports, there is now such a state as “cuteness aggression.”
Research published in the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience journal explained how very cute things, including babies and baby-face animals, can cause a sort of emotional overload that actually creates the potential for aggressive behavior.
But in this case, the aggressive behavior is interpreted as a protective response.
The human viewing the very cute baby or animal is overcome with a biological urge to cuddle and protect that can lead to squeezing, pinching, or crushing the baby or animal harder than is necessary, as an earlier Yale University research study points out.
The researchers were able to isolate activity in certain parts of the brain and link increased activity in those areas to the presentation of very cute babies or animals.
In other words, when you see a cat, the part of your brain that is hardwired to prefer cuteness and protect it goes into overdrive.
Cats may not have specifically evolved on their own to display the kinds of faces, smells, sounds, and behaviors that humans prefer, although this is not out of the realm of possibility.
But what is more likely is that, yet again, cat breeders consciously or unconsciously selected feline breeding pairs that appeared cuter to the breeder’s eyes and senses.
Do Cats Think People Are Cute
Since we are taking a look at why cats are so cute to people, it seems fair to turn the question around and ask whether cats think people are cute.
According to Bustle, the most likely answer given what researchers know about feline behavior and motivations is that no, cats don’t think people are cute.
Researchers believe that cats view their people as larger cats with no fur. This is based on how cats treat humans and behave with humans.
Basically, cats treat people the same way they treat other cats.
Even though a lot of feline behaviors seem designed to evoke the human response towards extremely cute sights, sounds, smells, and sensations, cats apparently are not playing favorites.
The way cats treat one another is basically the same way that cats treat humans. A cat that wants to be groomed, fed, played with, petted, or left alone will use the same cues with another cat as it will with its human caretaker.
Do Cats Know They Are Cute
This last question is one that generates endless debate between cat people and non-cat people.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, while cats may not know (or care) that humans find them cute, they certainly are masters of displaying behaviors that will get them what they want.
So even if cats do not understand the concept of cute or assign special meaning to it, there is no doubt that felines understand that behaving in certain ways can trigger their people to respond with desirable results – pats, treats, play, petting, attention, and love.