IndiaAsksWhy | Why do we find babies cute?

IndiaAsksWhy Episode 2 | S1

Have you ever experienced the warm fuzzy feeling when you look at babies? Why do you find them cute? Join Utsuka and Jigyasa to find out why. In the second segment, they both talk to Vidita Vaidya (, a brain scientist from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, about how researchers study emotions.

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Join Utsuka and Jigyasa as India becomes more curious, one question at a time!

Podcast duration: 12 min 51 sec

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Utsuka — U, Jigyasa — J

Transcripts with Timestamps

Both- Hi Everyone”

U- I am Utsuka

J- I am Jigyasa

Both- And you are listening to IndiaAsksWhy

U- A science podcast supported by IndiaBioScience

J: Where we do the research for you to get smarter.

U: Join us, as India becomes more curious,

Both: one question at a time!

[00:34] J: Do you have a younger sibling or a niece whom you find extremely cute? Why do you find them cute? Like everyone else, Utsuka and Jigyasa also find babies cute. In this episode, they ponder upon why we as humans find babies cute. And in the ask a scientist’ segment Utsuka and Jigyasa get to ask their questions to Dr. Vidita Vaidya, a brain scientist who is interested in the wirings of the brain that is responsible for how we express and feel. They also ask her about how she studies emotions in the lab using rats.

[01:22] J: I visited my two-year-old niece yesterday. She is just so cute and tiny. Her hands, fingers, tiny toes.. Ah! Cute as a button.

[01:32] U: Yeah! Babies are so cute. Jigyasa, ever wondered why we find babies cute?

[01:43] J: hmm…Fascinating question Utsuka. It seems like many neuroscientists, and brain researchers have wondered about this too. They research a ton about it. Scientists say that cuteness is how we think of it. It seems like the answer to your question Utsuka, lies in the wiring of our brains.

[02:05] U: Wait, I am confused. Wiring of our brains… What do you mean?

[02:11] J: Okay! Let me tell you how scientists study you. They show a group of adults images of babies one after the other while also recording their brain activity. The researchers observed a pleasure signal in the brains of the adult whenever they found a baby cute.

[02:28] U: Hmm.. why is that?

[02:30] J: It’s because thinking that a baby is cute seems to be somehow advantageous to us. So researchers reason that a baby seems cute to us because…

[02:38] U: wait, wait, wait. Seems cute to us…? So we only think that babies are cute?

[02:44] J: Yes, at least that’s what the latest research study says. Cuteness is an emotion we feel when we are attracted to a new born baby.

[02:53] U: Hmm… Interesting. Keep going, keep going.

[02:58] J: So, adults thinking of babies to be cute helps this tiny one live longer.

[03:03] U: Wait.. cuteness helps babies live longer?

[03:08] J: Yeah. When human babies are born, they are very fragile and very dependent on their caregiver, i.e, the adult. Imagine what would happen if a parent just abandoned their baby after some time the baby was born.

[03:22] U: Ohh… who would look after the small and fragile baby? How would it live?

[03:29] J: Exactly. The baby’s feature or cuteness sort of attracts the caregiver towards them, to take care of them. So if a baby feels hungry and needs food, the caregiver gives them the food. Therefore this helps us as a species to survive.

[03:46] U: Wait.. Our species to survive? There is a lot to unpack. How would you and I taking care of babies help us as a species survive?

[03:57] J: Umm… Okay. Taking care of an infant increases the chances of it growing to and becoming an adult. Now this adult would produce more babies and they would take care of those babies and those babies would grow up to adults and you know, give birth to more babies. So this way, the species is kept alive. So whenever an adult takes care of a baby, the brain sort of gives them a pat on the back.

[04:20] U: Ohh! Just like how you have mentioned what happened in the study.

[04:35] J: Yes! Exactly. This shows as a pleasure signal that scientists see in their experiments. And as a result we are filled with that feeling of fuzzy cuteness and we go like, Awww!”

[04:52] U: Uh huh! Uh Huh! Okay, that sounds really fascinating.

[04:59] U: Jigyasa, I have one more question. Why do we find animals like my kitten cute?

[05:08] J: Utsuka, you are going to be surprised by this answer. So researchers have actually found that there are certain features like the baby’s big eyes, small nose, and tiny mouth to be very attractive to us. Apart from that, they have also found that the baby’s voices and that peculiar baby smell are also very attractive to adults. So like if anything has these features, like big eyes, and tiny mouths, it will basically feel that they are cute to us.

[05:42] U: Anything? Like any non-living thing? Like even cartoons?

[05:48] J: Yes, Yes, even cartoons.

[05:52] U: Ohh Okay. So if I were to draw these features on a potato, would a potato look cute?

[05:59] J: Hahaha… Yes, Utsuka. Yes. The brain wiring of cuteness is so well settled in our brain that it starts sending signals even if it is mildly related to the cuteness feature.

[06:13] U: Woaahh! Our brains are so fascinating.

[06:16] J: They totally are. I agree.

[06:24] J: And now, It’s time to ask a scientist.

[06:31] U: So continuing our discussion about why we find babies cute. Now we have Dr Vidita Vaidya, a brain scientist at TIFR, Mumbai. So Jigyasa, why don’t you go ahead and ask your question?

[06:47] J: So Dr. Vaidya, we are asking the question, Why do we find babies cute?

[06:53] V: So, you know it is interesting. It depends on how much the baby requires care. The species in which you already carry the baby inside a womb. So now you already have a substantial body investment in terms of, you know, it could be nine months, it could be three weeks for a rat or a mouse, a substantial investment. So you have to carry the baby. The baby is going to be born and there is this fragile little object and you are invested in ensuring that this fragile object is going to be healthy and happy and live a wonderful big life. So then you better have an object that is going to be adorable to look at. Because it means you are going to not sleep at night, you have to feed this baby, you have to make sure that everything is okay with this individual and that has become your number one priority at that time, right?

[07:46] U: Branching out a little bit, you used rats to study these emotions let’s say. But the way rats sort of show their expressions is different from us humans. So how do you sort of study these rats? and how do you say this rat is now happy or angry?

[08:07] V: Yeah. I mean the thing is we can’t ask the rat, How are you feeling?” I wish we could. I mean there will be nothing like being able to say, how was your day? There are proxy measures. And then you can watch their behavior. You don’t do it with one animal. You do it with tens and twenty, thirty, forty animals. We have these open fields and it’s like a little arena, it’s a box. And we look at how much time the animal likes to sit in the corner, and how much time does it spend in the center? When it is in the center is it chilling, lifting its head, or moving very fast across the center? We can measure all these things. And the reason we know it is likely to be reflective of their anxiety or fear say drugs that treat anxiety in humans actually work in rats to reduce the fear of being in the center. So the same drugs that we know, patients will take when they have severe clinical anxiety will work in these animals, and animals will then go to the center happily, sit there, explore, right? So it’s not the greatest. The best measure would be being able to ask but because we can’t, we use substitute measures that give us at least a decent understanding of the kind of behaviors the animal is experiencing.

[09:23] U: Well sadly we have to wrap up this, so what is your message to people who are interested in science and for people who are interested in building a career in science?

[09:38] V: Okay so, for people who are interested in science, I think the most amazing thing about science is the Oh! Wow” moments. And then when you start practicing science or you go to a class, those moments start becoming smaller and smaller, fewer and fewer and they get farther and farther apart. Don’t lose that. You have it maximum when you are a child and it definitely goes down with time but it is the most special part about being interested in science or doing science. If you are doing science, accept that big failures are a big part of it and that shouldn’t worry you. In fact, failed experiments are themselves quite kind of fun sometimes. Because sometimes you actually find interesting things when you fail. So you come in with a view, and you have an idea that this is how it is going to work and then it actually doesn’t work like that. It works in a completely different way and then you discover that your original idea was absolute rubbish and this new idea, the actual information will inform you, right? So actually failure is one of your best friends in science. So sign all for that.

[10:48] J: So what did we learn today Utsuka?

[10:50] U: It is our brain wiring that has evolved over the years to think that babies are cute. So that we as a species can grow and survive and make more of us.

[11:04] J: And neuroscientists like Dr. Vaidya perform studies on mice, and use proxy measures to understand their feelings. She told us that embracing failures can sometimes teach us more than what we expected.

[11:20] J: But listeners, what we know about the brain’s wiring might change as we get more evidence over time.

[11:27] U: Who knows in the future it might be you who study human brains and find out something about them that we never knew before.

J: So U: Stay Curious Both: and ask questions

U: So, that’s it for today. We would like to thank Dr. Vidita Vaidya for letting us interview her.

J: If you want to know more about her, we have linked her profile in the Show Notes!

U: If you have any questions shoot them away to Indiaakswhy@​gmail.​com

J: If you’d like to directly talk to us and join the fun, join the fun on our Telegram Group. Link in the show notes.

U: For updates on IndiaAsksWhy, follow IndiaBioScience @IndiaBioscience on Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and Facebook! (link in the show notes as well!)

J: Shweata N. Hegde and Ruchi Manglunia are the hosts of the podcast

U: Ira Zibbu helped us transcribe and design the interview segment.

U: And we are thankful to IndiaBioscience for hosting us.

J ‑So stay tuned and stay curious!