Baby Yoda has taken the world by storm. In the short time since The Mandalorian‘s first episode aired on Disney Plus, every human on earth has been exposed to the disarmingly cute alien infant.
Even people living in regions where Disney Plus isn’t yet available already know about Baby Yoda, mostly via social media. Baby Yoda has gone viral, becoming one of the biggest memes of the year in remarkably fast time that feels like some kind of record.
But why exactly are people responding so positively to the character? Simple, because they’re biologically programmed to.
Of course, it’s been no secret that has capitalized on humanity’s affinity for cute things over the decades. Going back to the doe-eyed Bambi of the 1940s, they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their marketing. But Baby Yoda takes it a step further. There’s something almost unfair in how cute it is.
Researchers at The University of Oxford understands just how important cuteness is in our everyday lives, going so far as to describe it as ‘one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour’.
More importantly, they discovered that our brains begin recognizing faces as cute or infantile in less than a seventh of a second after the face is presented to us. This is key because it implies that the level of cuteness we are exposed to could influence how quickly we respond with attentional resources. In other words, cute things naturally command human attention.
Perhaps more relevant to the Baby Yoda phenomena is the research of Nobel laureates Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen. They found the perfect formula for cuteness called “infant schema”: round eyes, high eyebrows, and a large head in comparison to a smaller body. Sound familiar? It should, it’s the blueprint for Baby Yoda’s design.
But it also serves an evolutionary function by helping us identify our little ones and give them the proper attention they need to survive.
However, if exploited, it could also produce different effects. In one experiment, it was discovered that geese would neglect their actual eggs in favor of volleyballs which they would roll over to their nests instead. Why? Because volleyballs hit on all of the goose’s instinctively programmed “infant schema” moreso than their own eggs. Volleyballs are “supernormal stimuli” to a goose because they’re even bigger, whiter, and rounder than goose eggs. That could explain why some people, even those who don’t want kids, instinctively respond positively to Baby Yoda.
In fact, it’s not as far-fetched as it might sound to some. Even humans are susceptible to over-exaggerated supernormal stimuli. Our brains reward us with dopamine when we respond appropriately to cuteness, and scientists have determined that they can manipulate the way people react to faces by increasing or decreasing facial features on the infant schema scale.
Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian may as well have been created in a lab because even the way it walks and moves its hands are exaggerated to feel more baby-like than actual babies. Is that such a bad thing though? It gives us a temporary boost of dopamine and puts us back in touch with our nurturing side.
And Baby Yoda isn’t alone. Whether it’s the kawaii Pokémon in the recently released Sword and Shield video game, or the latest line of Cabbage Patch Kids, we’re surrounded by unbearably cute infant schema-driven stimuli everywhere we look.
Just remember to give the same level of attention to your real loved ones while you’re watching Disney Plus.