While nature has a myriad of breathtaking scenes and views which we can enjoy every day, it’s rare that a single event take over the hearts of millions. But when it happens, you can be pretty sure a birth is involved; and the cuter the animal that gives birth, the better.
And there are multiple reasons for this, all deeply ingrained into our collective subconscious. After a sea otter gave birth at the central California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, making an emotional impact on millions of people worldwide, we’re here to talk about the reasons behind it.
Taking place this weekend (Saturday, to be more exact), the live birth was originally available to just aquarium employees and visitors. The entire scene was filmed and a video was soon uploaded to Facebook, gathering over a million views since being uploaded on Sunday.
Seeing as the animals are endangered, the event was of particular importance. Sea otter experts have spent years studying the creatures and they have never seen such an up-close birth. Aside from the objectively interesting scientific part behind the event, why did the world go crazy over the sea otter birth?
There is one main reason behind this.
Birth as a species imperative
If a species is to survive, it has to replicate. No matter the level of evolution, if a species can’t survive or mate, it will quickly die off. In order to prevent this from happening, nature made it so that every species is driven towards reproduction.
But since birth comes with so many… unfortunate circumstances, some processes in our biology are developed particularly to fight the logical reasons for not reproducing. There is more than one process involved in this, but only one is truly relevant to the situation.
Anthropomorphism vs. uncanny valley
While the most mediatized birth-favoring psychological process is how mothers tend to forget or underestimate the level of pain they went through during childbirth so that they are more likely to have another child, it’s not even close to being as often used as another one of nature’s little tricks.
And if you’ve ever thought of something as being “cute”, it means that you’ve fallen prey to nature’s deceptions. Think about it. What makes something cute? Generally round features, large eyes relative to size of their heads, and cute yet loud noises are all traits shared by animals we perceive as cute and by babies.
Nature is trying to trick us into having babies by having us find animals with baby-like features cute. Insects, for example, are mostly repulsive because of their complete lack of resemblance to us. But add some large, beady eyes, and soft pictures to a macro picture of a spider, and you will find it cute.
The opposite is also valid. Take an objectively cute animal – for the sake of the subject, say an otter. Only instead of its large, round eyes, human-like hands, and short, stocky body, imagine it as having the small, beady eyes of a rodent, elephant trunks instead of hands, and a long, thin, hairless body. Despite it having no threatening features whatsoever, it would look disturbing and menacing.
The more human-like something is, the cutest it gets – unless it falls into the uncanny valley. That’s the level of anthropomorphism that allows something to resemble a human and yet to miss something important enough to render it creepy instead of cute (think blank-eyed humanoid robots).
Image source: Wikimedia