Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pandamania: Hard-Wired

Meaghan Wolff wrote an article for The Washington Post on the biological reasons behind our reaction to cuteness. She cites Psychology professor Stephan Hamann's various studies on the brain's reaction to pleasant stimuli.

"[Hamann] has conducted a number of studies on brain responses to pleasant stimuli, including pictures of cute baby seals and puppies. He uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is sensitive enough to measure tiny changes in brain activity.

Hamann's studies found that "cute" pictures cause increased activity in the middle area of the orbital frontal cortex, located behind the bridge of the nose, and in the amygdala, the emotion-control center of the brain responsible for fear and arousal.

According to Hamann, increased activity in the middle orbital cortex is usually associated with pleasure and positive emotion. Some evidence suggests the brain activity there is greater when the stimulus is "neotenous," which is to say it has juvenile characteristics -- a button nose, big eyes, a large wobbly head, chubby extremities or pudgy cheeks."

"Men and women showed nearly identical responses to cute stimuli, even if for social reasons they rate it differently."

No comments: