Baby Yoda takes the internet by storm

Behind the magic: Baby Yoda is an animatronic machine operated by a team of puppeteers. © Disney

Is cuteness a science? The ancient, alien sage has been reborn as an infant in a new Star Wars spin-off. One doctor says that our frenzied reaction to Baby Yoda has a scientific explanation.

A tiny puppet alien, swaddled in a child-sized Jedi robe, has melted the hearts of millions. In new Disney+ spin-off The Mandalorian, he’s called “The Child” but fans have given him another name. It’s Baby Yoda — the cutest new addition to the Star Wars galaxy.

From his first on-screen appearance, Baby Yoda became a viral hit and the star of many memes. “I would die for Baby Yoda,” echoes from all corners of the internet.

German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who plays a bounty-hunter in the new series, cried when he saw the infant puppet on set. “It’s heartbreakingly beautiful,” he gushed in a recent interview.

And, now, evolutionary psychologist Dr Daniel J. Kruger thinks he can provide a scientific explanation for our frenzied response to this small, green alien.

“Across species that have parental care, we see these really common features,” says Kruger.

Fifty years ago, Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz came up with the term Kindchenschema to describe a set of facial features that are universally recognised as cute. These characteristics — a large head, big eyes, a small nose and a tiny mouth — are found in the young of almost every species, where infants are dependent on their parents for protection and sustenance.

Humans aren’t exempt from the effect. Studies have repeatedly shown that babies with these features are more likely to receive baby talk and close parental attentions than those who don’t.

Scientists think that when we see a face with a high Kindchenschema level, it activates chemical reward systems in our brains. This pre-programmed response incentivises parents to invest more effort into caring for their offspring.

Media executives have started to notice this powerful effect.

“These features are becoming increasingly exaggerated in cartoon characters. Take the My Little Ponies of today and the eighties,” Kruger explains.

“In terms of getting people’s interest, I think The Mandalorian hits a home run.”

Is cuteness really a science?

Baby face?

Absolutely, say some. Kindchenschema is an empirical feature that can be measured and analysed. Across species, it has an evolutionary purpose in encouraging parents to protect their offspring. The creators of Baby Yoda have simply replicated a scientific formula with particular success — and we’ve fallen for it. Just as we’ve been genetically programmed to do so.

But cuteness is more than just science: it’s a deeply personal emotion, insist others. A “cute” animal or baby stimulates a fierce rush of love and protective feeling that fills our hearts. Our feelings towards a being aren’t just about a head-to-eye ratio — they are closely tied to the unique combination of appearance, personality, voice and other individual quirks.

You Decide

  1. Is Baby Yoda cute?
  2. Has meme culture made the world better or worse?

Activities

  1. Draw the face of an animal with Kindchenschema features.
  2. Make your own list of the top five memes of 2019.

Some People Say...

“Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”

Yoda

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Mandalorian is the flagship show on Disney’s new streaming service Disney+, which the studio hopes will rival Netflix and Amazon Prime. In the show, Baby Yoda is being hunted by the eponymous Mandalorian bounty hunter, who is played by Game of Thrones’s Pedro Pascal.
What do we not know?
Star Wars fans still don’t know the name of Yoda’s species. What we do know is that the species has an exceptionally long life-span. Yoda was around 900 years old during the original Star Wars films trilogy. “The Child”, despite its youthful appearance, is in fact 50 years old. It also turns out that this new Baby Yoda is far too young to be the same creature that mentored Luke Skywalker.

Word Watch

Disney+
Disney’s new entertainment streaming platform.
Memes
A funny image, often featuring a repeated joke, that is widely shared on social media.
Evolutionary
The development of certain characteristics that help a species to survive over the course of millions of years.
Ethologist
A scientist who studies animal behaviour.
Kindchenschema
Approximately means “baby-like features” in German.
Sustenance
Food and drink as a source of energy and strength for the body.
Exempt
Free from.
Reward systems
Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are “happy chemicals” in our brain.
Incentivises
Encourage someone to do something with a reward.
Home run
A way of scoring in baseball, when the batter has time to run past every base.
Empirical
Based on a verifiable fact in the material world.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.