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May 19, 2014

The "Weapons-Grade Cuteness" of Babies

Amusing phrase from a fascinating WSJ piece about the relationship between a baby's physical health/robustness and its ability to charm other humans and the evolution of the human species:

Humans also have "alloparents"—other adults who take care of babies even when they aren't related to them. In forager societies, those alloparents are often young women who haven't yet had babies themselves. Caring for other babies lets these women learn child-care skills while helping the babies to survive. Sometimes mothers swap caregiving, helping each other out. If you show pictures of especially cute babies to women who don't have children, the reward centers of their brains light up (though we really didn't need the imaging studies to conclude that cute babies are irresistible to just about everybody).

Dr. Hrdy thinks that this cooperative breeding strategy is what let us develop other distinctive human abilities. A lot of our human smartness is social intelligence; we're especially adept at learning about and from other people. Even tiny babies who can't sit up yet can smile and make eye contact, and studies show that they can figure out what other people want.

Dr. Hrdy suggests that cooperative breeding came first and that the extra investment of grandmothers, fathers and alloparents permitted the long human childhood that in turn allowed learning and culture. In fact, social intelligence may have been a direct result of the demands of cooperative breeding. As anybody who has carpooled can testify, organizing joint child care is just as cognitively challenging as bringing down a mastodon.

What's more, Dr. Hrdy suggests that in a world of cooperative breeding, babies became the agents of their own survival. The weapons-grade cuteness of human babies goes beyond their big eyes and fat cheeks. Babies first use their social intelligence to actively draw dads and grandmoms and alloparents into their web of adorableness. Then they can use it to do all sorts of other things...

You think that adorable infant is lying in its crib dreaming of warm milk. But really, it's doing the same thing it does every day.

Plotting to take over the universe.

The linked video is quite good if you're interested in this topic.

Posted by Cassandra at May 19, 2014 06:56 AM

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Dr. Hrdy

Dr. Hrdy?
What? Is this a relative of mr. rdr?

Posted by: DL Sly at May 19, 2014 01:15 PM

"Plotting to take over the universe."

"The Brain's" desire to take over the world is one upped again.

Posted by: Russ at May 19, 2014 03:29 PM

Posted by: Evil Twin at May 19, 2014 03:39 PM


Posted by: Russ at May 19, 2014 06:03 PM