The science of cute: why we love babies in glasses

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

It's true that people are obsessed with all that is cute.

With cats and cute animal videos the most-watched videos and photos on the internet, it's safe to say that seeing something cute transforms a cynical world in a split second, transporting us to a place where everything is sweet and innocent.

Cute baby and toddler videos would run a close second to cute animal ones, but blend a cute baby with something slightly incongruous that isn't quite expected, and you have a recipe for perfect cuteness.

Who could forget the viral video of a 2-month-old baby saying 'I love you,' or baby Leopold seeing his mother clearly for the first time.

The glasses went on and our hearts melted even before he had fully reacted. But why? We know we find babies in glasses adorable but what's the science behind it?

In an interview with Cari Romm at The Science of Us, Tokyo Gakugei University's 'cute studies' professor Joshua Paul Dale, explains the factors that make us go 'Awww' at the sight of a baby in glasses.

1. Their eyes look bigger

If the proliferation of Beanie Boos has taught us anything, it's that gigantic eyes can be a sign of cuteness, but they must be combined with a number of other cute factors, because big eyes alone don't do it.

Romm's article mentions Konrad Lorenz's concept of kinderschema, which is translated as 'baby schema.' According to this theory, Lorenz identified six physical factors that come together to give us that squishy feeling that comes with finding something or someone cute.

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"(a) large head relative to body size, rounded head; (b) large, protruding forehead; (c) large eyes relative to face, eyes below midline of head; (d) rounded, protruding cheeks; (e) rounded body shape; and (f) soft, elastic body surfaces."

Glasses lenses can magnify a baby's eyes, further enhancing their cute factor, as per Lorenz's point (b). Or if the lenses don't magnify them, they certainly frame them and draw the observer to the eye area.

2. It helps us engage

Dale says, "Feeling a baby is cute means we want to engage to help socialise him/her, and glasses are a sign of wanting to see the world more clearly in order to form attachments," adding, "So we may see the glasses as a signal that the baby wants to reach out and engage with us, which is a fundamental part of the appeal that all cute objects make."

Romm cites research that point to cuteness being 'an evolutionary tool' that both inspires adults to provide care vital to the baby's survival, as well as engage with them socially to form deeper bonds. It's why so many baby and toddler games employ mechanisms that make them do cute things. 

Adults might play "Round and 'round the garden like a teddy bear' in order to have physical and vocal connection with the child, as well as cause them to laugh, which is of course incredibly cute. The child inevitably wants to play over and over again, which causes deeper attachment to occur through fond memory-making.

3. It's unexpected

When most people think of glasses they think of adults, because in many people, sight is something that degenerates with age, and many people require them for reading, which babies can't do yet. So seeing a baby wear them is unexpected and rare, and creates a feeling of seeing something cute. 

Dale says, "We can consider glasses on a baby to be something novel and unexpected that creates a new category of cute things to enjoy." 

We have these preconceived notions about who wears glasses and for what purpose, so there's an incongruous aspect to it that Dale says,"...ends up adding to the baby's overall cuteness rather than subtracting from it."

So there you have it. That's why we find babies in glasses so utterly adorable... explained by the science of cute.