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What makes a babies face cute?

Babies are often described as being cute or adorable. Their big eyes, chubby cheeks, and tiny features seem to appeal to most adults. But why exactly do we find babies so cute? There are several theories that aim to explain what makes a baby’s face appear cute to us.

Baby Schema

One of the most well-known explanations is the baby schema theory proposed by ethologist Konrad Lorenz in the 1940s. The baby schema refers to a set of facial features like large eyes, round cheeks, and a small nose and mouth that Lorenz suggested trigger a nurturing response in adults. The idea is that these features remind us of human infants, so we are compelled to care for and protect them.

Research has shown some evidence to back up the baby schema theory. Studies have found that adults rate images of babies with more infantile facial features as cuter than those with less infantile features. And images of infants superimposed to have larger eyes, rounder cheeks, and smaller chins were consistently rated as cuter.

The baby schema response seems to be universal across cultures and is also seen in response to the young of other species like kittens, puppies and ducklings. This suggests it is an evolved adaptation to promote caring and protective behaviors in adults.

Facial Expressions

While some babies have cute features in a neutral state, most of the time cuteness is conveyed through their facial expressions. The expressions babies make can amplify cuteness for adults.

New born babies have limited control of their facial muscles so can’t intentionally make complex expressions. But some research has shown they may still convey emotions in subtle ways, like briefly smiling in response to positive stimuli like their mothers’ faces. As babies get older and gain more control of their facial muscles, they start showing more recognizable expressions of emotions like joy, surprise, disgust and sadness.

Expressions that display positive emotions like smiling, laughing and cooing tend to be perceived as cute. Scientists think this is because they signal to adults that the baby is content, healthy and ready to engage socially.

Positive Expressions in Babies Under 6 Months

Let’s take a detailed look at some common facial expressions and cues babies under 6 months old show that adults find cute:

Facial Expression/Cue Age of Onset Why It’s Perceived as Cute
Reflexive smile 0-2 months Signals positive emotion
Social smile 1-4 months Directed at caregivers during bonding
Laughing 3-5 months Infectious sound of joy
Cooing 6-12 weeks Lilting vowel sounds are pleasant
Tongue sticking out Newborn Seems playful

As you can see from the table, most of the cute expressions babies show in the first 6 months are forms of positive affect like smiling and laughing. They help form an emotional bond between caregiver and child.

Head and Body Proportions

While facial features are very important for cuteness, researchers have also found that babies’ head and body proportions influence how cute we find them.

Babies have relatively large heads and eyes, but small noses and tiny, chubby limbs. This gives them top-heavy, chunky body proportions. It’s been suggested that we find these babyish body properties appealing.

Interestingly, one study found that images of babies who had facial features digitally manipulated to appear more infantile were not rated as cuter if their head and body proportions were left unchanged and not also made more baby-like.

This indicates that the overall coming together of a large head/eyes and small body/limbs is key for amplifying the feeling of cuteness in babies. It again ties back to them reminding us of human infants.

Voice and Sounds

While facial appearance is important for perceiving cuteness in babies, the sounds they make also matter. The pitch, tone and frequency of babies’ vocalizations, laughter, crying and other noises also influence how cute we find them.

Researchers have found that adults rate higher-pitched baby cries as more distressed, adorable and urgent-sounding that lower-pitched cries. Higher-pitched voices are associated with smaller vocal tracts and vocal cords, so this makes intuitive sense.

Baby laughter is also highly appealing to adults. One study found that human baby laughter is actually structurally different from adult laughter. It has more prominent, melodic peaks and rhythmic structure. This unique acoustic profile makes it engaging.

Babies also employ exaggerated positive vocalizations like squealing and excited screaming. These hijack our instinctive response to infant cues and amplify cute perceptions.

Movements and Gestures

Babies’ bodily movements and gestures also make them appear more cute and captivate attention. Some examples include:

  • Clumsy crawling and walking as they learn to use their limbs
  • Outstretched arms requesting to be picked up
  • Grabbing motions toward objects, food or parents
  • Uncoordinated hand clapping
  • Kicking legs playfully when lying on their backs

The awkwardness of babies’ unrefined motor skills and their exploratory behaviors add to their endearing quality. These movements signal a desire to understand their environment and bond with caretakers.

When Do Babies Become Less Cute?

While babies are often considered very cute, this effect is not permanent. Most research shows that babies are viewed as most cute between ages 6-24 months. After this peak, cuteness perceptions start to decline.

One study found that while babies under 1.5 years old were all rated highly cute, there was a drop off in cuteness ratings after age 2. By age 4-5, children’s cuteness ratings were significantly lower.

There are a few reasons the “cute response” might fade as children get older:

  • Facial features change and become more adult-like.
  • Advanced motor skills mean they no longer make clumsy movements.
  • More neutral facial expressions are adopted.
  • Vocal properties like pitch change.
  • Less dependency on caregivers.

However, while older children are viewed as less cute than infants, adults still find signals of youth like big eyes and grins cute well into late childhood. Just not to the same exaggerated degree as in babies under 2.

Cuteness Helps Promote Caregiving

Overall the research suggests cuteness in babies strongly stems from physical, vocal and behavioral traits that make them seem helpless and remind adults of human infants. This cues caring and protective responses.

While baby cuteness may peak between 6-24 months, adults still find many aspects of young children’s appearances and actions cute. Just to a lesser extent as they begin to seem more independent.

This decreasing cuteness response as babies develop matches their decreasing helplessness and need for 24/7 caregiving. It demonstrates cuteness does help promote initial bonding between newborns and their caretakers.


Babies’ cute appearance and behaviors are not accidental. Instead they serve the evolutionary purpose of enhancing caring behaviors in adults. Features like big eyes, chubby cheeks, high-pitched voices, playful gestures and clumsy movements all combine to make babies seem helpless, vulnerable and intensely appealing to us.

This instinctive “cute response” ensures human infants receive the nurturing they require to survive and thrive. While it may fade over time as dependence decreases, it remains strong in early infancy when a baby most relies on its caregivers. So while cuteness has clear psychological impacts, it is ultimately an important evolutionary adaptation that aids infant welfare.