Dr. Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD
What causes it? Why these stimuli are so powerful? We know today that they are partially due to innate mechanisms in our nervous system, or, in other words, they are not learned but rather genetically programmed. Although the human mind and behavior are extremely influenced by education, culture and environment, it is also well known that a significant part of them is based on innate processes and systems, such as these sensorial triggering mechanisms.
The famous Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz (who got the Nobel award
for his studies in the biological basis of behavior), was the first one
to suggest, in 1943, that the reactions and feelings to images of babies
are not entirely due to our cultural learning, but rather it could be the
result of a biological adaptation brought about by evolution, which has
molded our nervous system to automatically recognize the typical anatomical
features of infants and to react protectively toward
it, therefore giving a survival advantage to this behavior. He named this
set of features as "Kindchenschema" (in German, "small children
|The main triggering features are:
|Another German ethologist, B. Hückstedt, published a study
in 1965, whereby he determined experimentally which of these features were
essential for triggering the "enchantment" reaction in voluntary adults.
He concluded that the rounded front and a large skull in relation to the
rest of the body are the most important ones.
Even the images of baby animals are effective as triggering stimuli, as it has been proved by the researcher P. Spindler (1961). He studied the typical "maternal" reaction in adults, by offering them kittens and cats of different ages. The reaction, consisting of positive affect, merriment, tilting the head to one side, and the utterance of tender and childish words, was more frequent with kittens of smaller age than with adult cats.
Exaggeration of infantile features in animation movie characters. Roundness of forms, small and pointed noses, big eyes and a big head in relation to the rest of the body are the essential traces.
|The toy and movie animation industries, such as Disney's films,
are keen in using and abusing the knowledge about the Kindschenschema,
and build their models and drawings in the exact measure to evoke feelings
of enchantment in adults and children alike.
Note, for example, how anyone is able to recognize immediately as infants these sculptures of Thumper, Bambi and Dalmatian.
a homage to the enchantment and tenderness of babies, we offer to our readers
Babies Photo Gallery as the new exhibit of the Neuroscience Art Gallery
of July 2002.
K. Lorenz (1943). Die angeborenen Formen möglicher Erfahrung. Z. Tierpsycholog., 5, 235-249
B. Hückstedt (1965). Experimentelle Untersuchungen zum Kindchenschema. Z. exp. U. angew Psychol., 12, 421-450
P. Spindler (1961). Studien zur Vererbung von Verhaltensweisen. 3. Verhalten gegenüber jungen Katsen. Anthrop. Anz., 25, 1, 60-80
2002 Silvia Helena Cardoso
Published on July 9, 2002
Brain & Mind Magazine
An Initiative: Center for Biomedical Informatics, State University of Campinas