The science of cute

Since the mid-twentieth century, researchers have been trying to understand what makes creatures appear cute to humans. These adorable traits include infant-like features such as wide-set eyes and large heads. Now, with the help of social media, researchers at Virginia Tech are investigating the science behind cuteness.

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WITH MORE THAN 1,000 ANIMALS ON 20 ACRES, THE TURTLE BACK ZOO IS PACKED WITH SPECIES THAT MAKES US SQUEAL, AND IT TURNS OUT THEY HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON.

BIG EYES, SOME PUDGINESS, SHUFFLING OR MOVING IN SOME KIND OF AWKWARD BUT LOPING MANNER, ANYTHING FALLS OVER A LOT WE TEND TO FIND ADORABLE.

CASE IN POINT, THIS RED PANDA, WITH ITS BRIGHT EYES, SMALL FACE, AND SOFT COAT.

THOSE ARE ALL EXAMPLES OF SIGNALING -- WHAT AN ANIMAL'S LOOK SAYS TO OTHERS.

THE EAR POSITION SIGNALS TO US WHETHER OR NOT WE THINK THAT THEY'RE HAPPY OR AGGRESSIVE OR ALERT OR UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING.

WHEN WE CAN READ AN ANIMAL'S EXPRESSION, WE FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE, AND IT'S A WINNING TRAIT FOR CUTENESS.

THINK OF A FAMILY DOG.

YOU CAN TELL WHEN A DOG IS HAPPY -- TAIL POSITION, EAR POSITION, FACIAL MUSCLE POSITION.

IT'S ELICITING FOOD, IT'S ELICITING LOVE, IT'S ELICITING CARE.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS WE'VE BRED IT TO DO THAT WE FIND ENDEARING.

SMALL MAMMALS ARE A SLAM DUNK FOR CUTENESS.

BUT ZOO DIRECTOR BRINT SPENCER SAYS COLD-BLOODED ANIMALS GET THE SHORT END OF THE STICK.

IN THE MOVIES, YOU DON'T SEE THE MONSTERS LOOKING WARM AND FUZZY.

THE MONSTERS LOOK REPTILIAN.

THE MONSTERS LOOK LIKE SOMETHING THAT WE SHOULD BE SCARED OF.

IT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SMOOTH SLITHER AND A GOOFY GATE.

CHECK OUT THESE WALLABIES.

THEY'RE BOUNCY, AND THEY LOOK KIND OF LIKE ANIMAL POGO STICKS.

AND THAT LOOKS ADORABLE UNTIL ONE REALLY STARTS TAKING OFF, AND YOU KIND OF GO, 'WOW.'

SUDDENLY, THAT'S JUST A LITTLE BIT LESS CUTE THAN WHEN IT WAS JUST SITTING THERE GOING, 'I'M KIND OF AN OLD GRANDMOTHER WITH AN ADORABLE FUZZY FACE AND TAIL.'

BUT OUR CAUTION, 'CUTE ISN'T ALWAYS FRIENDLY.'

THEY'RE A BEAUTIFUL CAT, AND SO PEOPLE THINK THAT THEY'RE FRIENDLY, THEY'RE CUTE, THEY'RE FUZZY.

YOU SEE HOW QUICKLY THEY CAN MOVE AND HOW STRONG THEY ARE, AND WHEN WE DO PHYSICALS AND YOU SEE HOW BIG THE CLAWS ARE, YOU REALIZE THAT THIS IS NOT A FRIENDLY ANIMAL.

A BEAR WALKING IS KIND OF A LOPEY, ADORABLE ANIMAL.

A BEAR RUNNING AT YOU IS AN AMAZINGLY FAST KILLING MACHINE.

WHEN A GROUP OF HUNTERS CAPTURED ONE A CENTURY AGO, PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT COULDN'T BRING HIMSELF TO SHOOT IT, SO THE TEDDY BEAR WAS NAMED IN HIS HONOR.

WHILE CUTENESS IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, HUMANS MEASURE AGAINST THEIR OWN YOUNG.

THEY ARE PUDGY, THEY ARE ROUND, THEY ARE BAD AT SUSTAINING THEIR HEADS ON THEIR NECKS, AND THEY ARE BAD AT SITTING UPRIGHT.

AND THEY ARE JUST ROLY POLY, BIG, ADORABLE OBJECTS THAT SMILE AT US WHEN WE MAKE THEM HAPPY AND SHRIEK TO HIGH HEAVEN WHEN WE DON'T.

CUTENESS PLAYS A ROLE IN CONSERVATION, TOO.

CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA ARE POPULAR ANIMALS THAT STAR IN CONSERVATION EFFORTS.

BUT THERE ARE SHORTFALLS.

WE MAY SAVE PANDAS, BUT THE REST OF THE BAMBOO FOREST CAN COLLAPSE AROUND THEM, AND WE HAVEN'T SAVED ANYTHING, REALLY.

IT'S MISSION THE ZOO TAKES TO HEART.

OVER THE SUMMER, IT SPONSORED RESCUE EFFORTS BY A VOLUNTEER AND A VETERINARIAN.

PLUS, IT OFFERS CONSERVATION CLASSES YOU CAN APPLY IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.