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Here's Why Some Animals Are Just Irresistibly Cute

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Advertiser. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

All animals are created equal — but not in terms of how adorable they are. No one would describe a snake or bumblebee that way, but we can't stop cooing over pandas or puppies or piglets. This has an effect on everything from YouTube stardom — very few spider videos have ever gone viral, but every cat videos seems to — to conservation efforts. Saving the pandas is a multimillion dollar fundraising priority; saving crickets is not.

In a diverse world, it's remarkable humans worldwide tend to agree about which animals are cute and which aren't. But scientists have proven there is nothing accidental about this —it all comes down to how we are biologically wired. Here's why we protect certain species to survive.

We recognize baby animals as human babies

Ethologist Konrad Lorenz was one of the first scientists to study this phenomenon. In 1943, he introduced an idea called the "baby schema," which says that humans have empathy for baby animals that have the same features as human babies. When we see these characteristics in an animal, our brain fires in the same way it does when we see a baby, and our reaction is to care for and protect it.

Take Dave, the blue panda on Sprout's Ruff-Ruff, Tweet, and Dave. His head is round, his forehead is large, and his eyes are wide and eager to see the world. He has a button nose, a tiny mouth, and a chubby body. Our brain recognizes those features and tells us he could be a baby, and that we need to form a bond with it so it can survive. And so we can't help but find him adorable. (Our body doesn't tell us those same things when we see a fish, for example, or a turtle.)

We have a physical reaction to animals

Scientists have also found that humans are drawn to animals that act just like them because they remind us of our happiest memories. Seeing them releases dopamine and oxytocin, which is the same thing that happens when we fall in love, eat chocolate, or exercise. We remember how we felt when we saw them, and we have the same reaction the next time. This explains why Ruff-Ruff is such a lovable character on Ruff-Ruff, Tweet, and Dave. When he goes to the beach and digs in sand or gets excited about going on an adventure and bounces and flops around, we recognize our own behavior, or the behavior of our children.

We find some animals more favorable than others

Humans also find animals to be cuter when they have traits we associate as positive. Puppies are loyal. Monkeys are smart. Bears and lions are strong and powerful. When Ruff-Ruff, Tweet, and Dave’s Tweet is on an adventure, whether he’s dueling pirates or at a birthday party, he sings. We see this as a positive quality, and so it makes us love him.

On the other hand, when animals do things we don’t like we don’t think they’re cute. Snakes surprise us when they hide in places we don't want them. Termites are parasites; their eating habits can destroy or cause severe damage to our homes. Not cute.

Don't miss the adorable Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave, Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sprout.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Advertiser. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.