Cuteness: A Survival Tactic

This is Kathleen Kaska’s final post with Pens, Paws, and Claws. We’ll miss her in our regular rotation of bloggers, and we’ll hope she’ll stop by from time to time for a visit.

Do you ever wonder why most people go gaga over babies—human and otherwise?

When I was studying physical anthropology at the University of Texas, one of my professors caught slack after he said that baby animals were cute so that their mothers would take care of them. Anthropomorphism in the world of science was a big no-no back then, and still is in certain academic situations. However, recent brain research seems to support my professor’s claim.

There is a recent article in The Telegraph by Sophie Jamieson about an Oxford University study concluding babies and puppies have evolved cute characteristics as a way to survive. It goes beyond visual attributes like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and infantile giggles. Sounds and smells also stimulate the nervous system to give care to the cute. Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Morten Kringelbach led the research and said, “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.” That also might be why we more often choose young animals for pets rather than older ones.

Beyond stimulating our need to nurture, owning a pet, regardless of the animal’s age, can make us healthier. It’s no secret that pets relax us when we’re stressed, but did you know there’s a scientific reason for that? Cuddling a pet releases the chemical oxytocin sometimes called “the cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin calms and soothes both the owner and the pet, which leads to a strong bond between both. That bond between dog and human is the strongest. Dogs are the only animal that consistently run to meet their owner when frightened or happy to see them. They are the only ones to make eye contact with people when they need attention, food, or protection.

Other studies show that owning a pet improves our cardio-vascular system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of asthma. Cuddling or petting a pet reduces the stress hormone cortisol in those who suffer from clinical depression. Dogs are also being trained to detect, usually by smell, certain diseases or malfunctions of the human body. For example, trained dogs can detect minute changes in the function of the adrenal glands of people suffering from Addison’s disease. Some can use their sense of smell to detect the development of cancer or diabetes, and others learn to detect early signs of epileptic seizures and to warn their owner.

I used to teach middle-school science before I retired. Although I loved my job, I usually left the classroom stressed. A half-hour commute home through heavy traffic added a tight knot between my shoulders. Only when I turned down my street did I begin to relax. When I looked at my front window and saw my little brown, mixed-breed hound Jenny watching for me, the tension washed away completely.

Links:

https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/

http://www.kathleenkaska.com

http://www.blackopalbooks.com

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Published by

Heather Weidner

Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, SECRET LIVES AND PRIVATE EYES and THE TULIP SHIRT MURDERS. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 SHADES OF CABERNET. Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers and has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.

9 thoughts on “Cuteness: A Survival Tactic”

  1. What a happy, uplifting post. I can see the little doggie in the window. This makes for a great send-off if you are truly leaving this blogspot as a scheduled poster.

  2. So true. The stress of moving to another country (Spain) and missing my family and friends at home (Canada) was causing some health issues. We got our adorable dog and now I am just fine. Boy does she know how to use the cuteness card!

  3. Thanks so much for your comments! Even though my dogs crossed over the Rainbow Bridge several years ago, I still talk to them every day, and they answer back. The joy they bring me is everlasting. Sadly, my time with Pens, Paws, and Claws was short. I’ll miss you guys too. I hope to come back one day when things aren’t too hectic. Best to all and I’ll keep checking in.

  4. Wonderful post and so true! There is nothing better than to sit with my Aussie boys and stroke their fur. Their eyes soften and make contact with me. If they were cats, they’d be purring.
    Thanks for being a part of Pens, Paws and Claws.

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