If we find animals different from us and historically dangerous animals SCARY (many legs, no legs, insects, venomous species, etc), why do we find FLUFFY and FURRY animals CUTE when WE are practically hairless? Why are bears cute when they have historically posed great threat to us?


Lot of hairy and fluffy looking organisms are also dangerous too… like those worms, bears, some plants, etc

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A difficult topic with no clear and certainly no single answer. I’d wager anthropomorphasis has a strong role to play here. A lot of typical creepy crawlies and other non-mammaliam animals many people dislike have no or no obvious social structures or recognizable behavior. The experience of a spider is a lot more alien to us than the experience of a bear. Being social mammals ourselves, it’s much easier to find “humaness” in other mammals than in reptiles or arthropods.

It’s also possible that our coevolution besides canines and felines made it more advantageous to find things like them cute or endearing. The importance of domestication of dogs for our ancestors and cats for agriculture really can’t be overstated. Our minds are good yet terrible at pattern seeking. Quick to recognize patterns, but also very quick to overgeneralize. If recognizing furry top order carnivores as cute increased our fitness, it’s quite possible we’ve overcompensated so to speak. That bit is entirely speculation on my part though in all fairness.

And the last factor I can think of is… most people in a first world country really don’t have any context for what it means to square off with a top order carnivore that can seperate your skull from your neck with a half-assed paw strike whereas everyone has probably been snuck up on and gotten a spook from a harmless spider or non-danger noodle. As ridiculous as it sounds, a lot of people subconciously recognize them as greater risks because they’ve actually encountered one. Bite force, a ton in weight, tempermental behavior (especially if its a mama G-bear). These are all things that are easy enough to read but don’t really set in as anyrhing more than trivia until the threat is potentially real and not hypothetical. Most people who’ve encountered a wild grizzly in the flesh though are much less likely to think they’re cute while they recall shitting their pants.

Like with all mind related questions there simply isn’t a “Eli5” answer available. Evolutionary psychology and cognitive science are both fairly young disciplines, so there truly aren’t many concrete and known facts about how our cognition of things and behaviour work, just a big pile of hypotheses and theories, and more often than not they are, in the end, ale correct and incorrect to some degree.

That’s how it is for animals we find scary, there isn’t one underlying behavioural reason but many different ones for different examples: some are literally ingrained into our DNA and function as an epigenetic rule to form cultural/cognitive perception of the supposed danger(spiders whom we are naturally programmed to more easily spot for example), some are caused by ToMM detector perceiving them as intending harm(Sharks, Venomous animals with bright colour markings) and some might be explained by the affect theory(Slugs, Rats).

The same most likely goes for us perceiving some animals as cute, there just isn’t a single answer as to “why”, but many different ones, like how the hypothesis that ToMM explains perception of cuteness as a lack of detection of maliciousness combined with lack of other clear intention signs(which explains why you might find a baby cute, a random person on a blind date cute, that elephant strolling by on the plains minding his own business cute), there is the Machiavellian monkey hypothesis which to some degree proposes that we find “easy targets” cute(that squirrel or mice that would be easy to hunt down, that guy who looks like he is easy to be swayed, that innocent girl who needs your protection), another explanations might be cultural printing(you find dogs cute cause they are everywhere and everyone feels safe next to them) or the affect theory(you love that millipede in the vivarium that you hold on your desk so you find it cute), and many more other theories. There just simply isn’t a single possible answer, and likely there never will be because our minds are a complicated machine with a surprisingly small amount of possible outputs, and as such the behaviouristic approach of “something in, a mechanism causes something, something out” rarely works that way, and more often one feeling is caused by many different “things” happening in the background at the same time.

As a man starting to get up there in age (OK just 38) I can assure I am far from practically hairless. I’m turning into basically a bear at this point, hair started growing on my back at 34. Chest was already there. I’m basically hairy every where except palms and soles of my feet.

It’s important to remember a lot of this comes down to cultural associations as much or more than it does an innate biological response.

Bears and lions are a great example of this. They are extremely dangerous, far more dangerous for humans than sharks or snakes are, but instead of fearing or loathing them we adore them. This is likely due to cultural archetypes surrounding them as symbols of power, nobility, etc.

People who grew up around less conventional animals tend to be less bothered by them. I’ve always had reptiles around so while I understand snakes can be dangerous, the default fear and aggression many people feel towards them isn’t present.

All the creepy little animals that we are often innately scared of have one important thing in common: They may be full of deadly venom and it’s difficult to know for sure. Therefore it’s best to just stay the fuck away because really, nothing good will come of any interaction with them. The majority of them are too small to be a meaningful source of food, so there’s *no* reason to interact with them at all from an evolution POV.

The cute animals are almost all mammals. They’re our relatives and we share a lot of ancestry. There’s bound to be a lot of common patterns to things we see as “good”. It wasn’t too long ago us humans were furry too, and I’d expect that appreciating a healthy and beautiful fur was an important instinct for a very long time in comparison. Since there hasn’t been any selective pressure to *remove* that instinct, it remains.