Maternal Response To Infants' Features

The Cute Response

Have you ever wondered why Bratz dolls have those very large heads and eyes? It's simple: such exaggerated features trigger the "cute response." Most infant mammals, including humans, have heads and eyes that are large in proportion to their bodies. Evolutionary scientists theorize that people and animals have an instinctive response to the large heads and eyes of infants and those with infant-like features. This positive and protective response is meant to ensure the viability of the young of various species, since their features cause their parents to care for them. Scientific studies have borne this out again and again: both children and adults have a positive reaction to large heads and eyes.

Doll makers and filmmakers have put this fact to good use in their respective crafts. Mattel used the cute response when designing Barbie dolls, which now seem almost prissy in comparison to the more outgoing  appearance of the Bratz dolls. The sexy features of the Bratz dolls are counterbalanced by their infant-like eyes and large heads, so they appear both slatternly and cute at one and the same time.

Now let's look at the ET issue. Why on earth do we find him so, well, so cute? With his flat face, large eyes, a head disproportionate to his body, and tiny features, he has the baby features we all love and want to protect. It's the same for us with puppies and kittens—ET speaks to our subconscious desire to nurture and protect and not many of us find ourselves able to resist his appeal.

Baby-faced Appeal

Person perception is the impression we form, no matter how vague, at a first meeting, and physical appearance figures largely in how we perceive others. It has been proven that those people who have baby-like features like rounded chins and large eyes are seen as being honest. Baby-faced people are also thought to be unworldly, vulnerable, and unresisting.

Those scientists in the field of evolutionary theory feel that these perceived qualities in relation to people who have baby-like features are due to our predisposition to see infants as helpless and in need of nurturance. This propensity to nurture the baby-faced among us gave our forbears an advantage since babies who were given adequate nurturing were more likely to survive and in turn, produce children of their own.

In China, prospective adoptive couples look for children who are likely to bring respect an honor to the family name. As a result, children are adopted in large part due to perceived attractive features like round faces, double eyelids, and large round eyes. A Guangdong orphanage was forced to admit that the only child it had for adoption was an ugly but healthy baby girl, since the baby in question had been rejected for adoption by a large number of Chinese families. One director of a Chinese orphanage has stated that he prefers international adoption of the children under his care, since indigenous Chinese families are too focused on the cute response and this limits the viability of local adoption.