• ‘Kawaii’ may translate as loveable, but love is not the emotion of cuteness, in the same way that happiness is not the same as awe. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Present a photo of a baby and puppy and wait for the 'aww' response. But should this sound actually be recognised as a real human emotion?
By
Yasmin Noone

Source:
Griffith University
29 Nov 2016 - 5:03 PM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2016 - 9:56 AM

Cuddly animals, adorable babies or endearing gestures from a partner – whatever the cute level – are usually met with a reaction of “aww”.

Now, a Griffith University researcher wants to match this sound with a classified human emotion, alongside such feelings as anger, fear, surprise and disgust.

Professor Ralf Buckley of Griffith’s School of Environment suggests that meaning must be attributed to the ‘aww’ response, given its cross-cultural prevalence.  

In a new paper, published today in Frontiers in Psychology, Prof Buckley highlights that while there are terms for 'cute' across languages – for example, ‘kawaii’ in Japanese – none contain a single term for the corresponding emotional response.

‘Kawaii’ may translate as loveable, but love is not the emotion of cuteness, in the same way that happiness is not the same as awe. Instead, says Professor Buckley, research in this field is forced to use blended terms such as cute-emotion, cute-affect, or kawaii-feeling.

“Indeed, there is remarkably little published research on this emotion, relative to other human emotions such as fear where social, behavioural, physiological, and neurological as well as psychological perspectives have been studied,” explains Prof Buckley.

“Lots of cultures and languages have words for cute, but none have formal names for the emotion. Why does a name matter? Because people don't think about things without names.”

Professor Buckley says the linguistic deficiency is particularly surprising since cute-emotion has considerable biological significance.

“Lots of cultures and languages have words for cute, but none have formal names for the emotion. Why does a name matter? Because people don't think about things without names.”

“Cute-emotion is principally a response to neotenic or baby-animal characteristics, such as big round eyes, small size, and softness,” he says.

“People experience a specific emotion when they see something cute.  

“These characteristics are involved in human mate selection and human parental care. Cuteness also has social functions, used in design and sales such as clothing, toys and videos etc. 

“What do you say if you see something really cute?  In English, probably, "aww", so that's the new name for cute-emotion!”

According to the study, released today, there are more than 1000 research publications on emotions such as fear, applying social, behavioral, physiological, and neurological as well as psychological perspectives.

However, there are less than 10 studies on the ‘cute-emotion’.

Professor Buckley suggests that more research should be conducted into cute-emotion to better understand its interaction with other human emotions.

“Cute-emotion is principally a response to neotenic or baby-animal characteristics, such as big round eyes, small size, and softness."

The subject of emotions is a hotly debated one in the realm of science. Many psychologists follow the theory of Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions, which identifies eight basic human emotions - joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation.

Meanwhile, other researchers believe there are around six or seven basic emotions experienced by humans around the world. This theory is based on Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a taxonomy that measures the movements of all the face's 42 muscles as well as the movements of the head and eyes.

Research released from University of Glasgow in 2014 finds that challenged the established view that there are six basic emotions: anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness.

Scientists analysed 42 facial muscles, responsible for creating human emotional expressions, to conclude there are four basic human emotions, excluding anger and disgust from the list.

The thought behind this is that four emotions (sadness, fear, surprise and happiness) are the most basic experienced by humans, and other more complicated emotions have developed as mankind as biologically evolved.

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