Neuroscience Explains Why You Can't Help but Love Kittens
These little monsters domesticated themselves!
Ph.D. neuroscience candidate Shannon Odell is back for the season finale of Your Brain on Blank, and this time she’s going for broke. It’s the much-requested kitten episode, and that’s something that can’t be taken lightly.
Shannon helps us to better understand domestic cats, or Felis silvestris if you’re fancy, by delving into how house cats came into existence. According to an article in Science in 2007, cats domesticated themselves when they discovered that living in tandem with humans was extremely beneficial to their survival. Why go out into the wilderness to hunt when you can have your food brought to you by unsuspecting humans?
Cats also outperform other cats in the critical metric of most popular household pet, only losing the war to freshwater fish — which is probably because a freshwater fish is one step up from a rock on the low-maintenance pet ladder.
But the real question that needs to be answered is this: What is it about kittens that makes us love them so much? Well, it’s most likely because of baby schema, the same mechanism that makes us love babies so much.
The human brain is wired to take care of infants — the livelihood of the species depends on it — and as a result, that wiring is very strong and easily triggered to avoid any false negatives. If your brain took a look at a baby, for instance, and classified it as “not a baby” because it was ugly, that would probably lead to a beautiful batch of short-lived humans. Instead, our brains classify a lot of things as babies, like kittens. These furbabies have trojan-horsed their way into our brains by looking similar to human babies. It’s not like they did it on purpose or anything, but they certainly benefit from the confusion.
Shannon also reveals some mind-blowing facts about kittens’ purring, their preferences for women over men, and their overall attitude towards people. (Spoiler: It’s actually pretty heartwarming.)
Check out the whole episode for about five minutes of the cutest cat footage you’re gonna see on Inverse, and a whole bunch of facts about the brain.
This episode was made possible only with the help of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and we’d like to highlight their Meow for Now campaign.