What Mickey And Baby Have In Common

A Younger Mickey

The late paleontologist and evolutionary scientist Stephen J. Gould once wrote about the evolution of Mickey Mouse for the science journal National History. Gould had observed that as time went on, Mickey Mouse, rather than aging had become ever more youthful. Of course, this is at odds with our expectations of the normal mammalian maturation process. We expect to see tiny limbs grow longer in proportion to the rest of the body, while the body becomes larger in proportion to the head. The head should become larger in proportion to the eyes, but the lower half of the face, for instance, the nose, should become ever larger in proportion to the rest of the head and face. All mammals follow this basic growth chart.

We've become accustomed to recognizing the youngest member of a given species by spotting largish eyes in relation to the head, smallish snouts, with rather large heads but short limbs. When we see such features in mammals and in our own young, we can't help but respond with nurturing behavior. It's hard-wired into our brains to see young babies and animals as cute, and we respond accordingly.

Puppies and kittens always evoke this type of response in us, but there are mammals that have such features, even into adulthood. Squirrels, for instance, retain largish eyes in proportion to their faces, and have snub noses. Even though we know that squirrels are in essence, rodents living in trees, our hindbrains tell us the little guys are cute.

More Marketable

But back to Mickey—through the years, starting with his entry onto the screen as Steamboat Willy, on through to his stint with the Mickey Mouse Club, the mouse's eyes and head became larger as his nose got smaller. It's clear that a younger Mickey was deemed more saleable.

Now, it isn't only women or mothers who respond to large eyes and baby-like features. It seems that men prefer women with large eyes. There appear to be two reasons for this preference. Large eyes, along with large foreheads, full lips, and small chins indicate high levels of the female hormone, estrogen. Women with higher levels of estrogen will be more likely to conceive and bear children. Men are hardwired to believe that women with larger eyes therefore make better mates.

But there's another reason for the male preference for large female eyes. Large eyes are known as a neotenous feature, something that is characteristic of babies and children. Human eyes remain the same size during development, as opposed to the head and face. Therefore, the size of the eyes seems to decrease, relative to the rest of the face, as we age. This means that men will perceive women with largish eyes as being younger than they really are. As with the estrogen issue, women who appear to be younger will be perceived as more fertile, more likely to conceive and bear a man's children, thus a more ideal mate.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

In fact, the male preference for blondes may not be much different. Many babies and youngsters have light blonde hair which then darkens later in life. In choosing blondes with big eyes, men are hoping to find mates young enough to bear them many children.