The sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard is one of the most difficult sounds to listen to. This “screech” sound gives the sensation of your soul being ripped to shreds and invokes great discomfort. Why is this?
Professor Randolph Blake of Vanderbilt Center, USA, observed that this sound is very similar to the scream chimpanzees and macaque monkeys make when they see a predator. According to other researches on this phenomenon, many species of monkeys also hate this sound greatly. Blake used these facts to hypothesise that as our primitive ancestors used this sound to alert an enemy approaching, it has been programmed into our primitive brain to trigger a negative response. Also, physically this sound amplifies in our ears at a certain frequency to cause intense pain. The pain and our basic instincts combine to generate such an unpleasant feeling.
Money is without a doubt a human invention. There are no recorded cases of any animal using an inanimate object to standardise the value of items and establish a non-bartering economy. Since childhood we learn of the value of money and how it can be used to purchase goods and services. In fact, money can be considered one of the fundamental pillars of human society that makes the world go round.
However, scientists have discovered that a currency system may not be such a novel system after all. In an experiment, a group of capuchin monkeys were given silver disks and were shown how they could use the disks as payment for a treat. Within a few months time, the monkeys realised that the disks had inherent value and began acting just like humans with money.
For example, they did not act in the standard way of operant conditioning (i.e. performing an action results in a reward), but responded to market forces in an accurate manner. If the “price” rose, their demand for treats would fall (i.e. buy less) and vice versa – following the law of demand that modern economics is based on. They even learnt to save the “money” to afford treats.
In a similar experiment with chimpanzees, it was found that chimps were even quicker in learning the concept of money and even learnt how to use smaller denominations of currency.
Things started to get interesting when a certain monkey sneaked into the chamber storing the “coins” and threw it into the communal cage, quickly escaping before the researchers came back. This was the first recorded case of a monkey bank robbery.
While this was happening, it was also observed that one male monkey was giving a female monkey a coin. The researchers wondered if this was an act of altruism or wooing, but soon discovered that the female monkey would receive the coin then have sex with the male, then later use the coin to buy food. The introduction of money immediately led to the invention of prostitution.
The word cute is used in many different contexts: a girl saying a guy is “cute” could mean that she finds him attractive, while a guy saying a girl is “cute” may imply that they find them lovable but not in an attractive way. But essentially, cuteness can be described using the concept of neoteny.
What is neoteny? This is a concept in evolution where adults of a species preserve traits of youth. The end result is a mature organism that appears to be immature. A good example of this is the axolotl, which preserves its juvenile aquatic form (e.g. gills and overall look) in adulthood, even when they are living amphibiously.
It has been hypothesised that human beings originate from neotenised chimpanzees, as a baby chimp has striking resemblance to a human.
Cuteness and neoteny have an extremely intricate relationship. It is common knowledge that the most powerful attractors of care from an adult is cuteness. Almost every infant organisms have “cute” appearances that make people instantly feel warm and fuzzy. Ergo, being cute (i.e. neoteny) is a survival advantage as the young are cared for more until they are mature. This simple concept has led to the lengthening of childhood in humans, as children require a long time under the care of adults while they absorb knowledge and learn how to function in society. This also solved the problem of babies being born with immature brains (as the head is already too large to fit through the birth canal) and still having a chance at survival.
It has been scientifically proven that people with cuter faces are seen in a more positive light, more likely to be hired and less likely to provoke aggression in violent people (the human brain is wired to inhibit aggressiveness when faced with cuteness, presumably an effort to reduce child abuse and improve survival). In short, cuteness invokes maternal or paternal love and causes a sudden want to protect the cute thing.
This leads to another advantage of cuteness: attractiveness. Although beauty and cuteness are almost diametrically opposed, many men (and women) find “cuteness” to be appealing in the opposite sex. This is likely related to the brain confusing parental love with romantic love. A youthful look is also associated with fertility, which greatly influences a man’s subconscious choice of a partner. However, it is also true that because of this effect a man may see a cute girl only as a “little sister” figure they need to protect, rather than a potential love interest.
So what makes for a cute person? As stated above, these are traits of neoteny, or in other words:
- large eyes
- small nose
- small jaw and teeth
- flattened and rounded face
- large brain/forehead (causing the eyes/nose/mouth to be lower on the face)
- hairless face and body
- limbs shorter than torso length
- legs longer than arms
- upright posture
These characteristics are commonly used in animations and cartoons to boost the audience’s affection towards the character. This is especially the case in Japan where the a cultural obsession with cuteness is clearly evident.