Measuring Affective Responses to Cuteness and Japanese kawaii as a Multidimensional Construct

Abstract

The aim of this study was twofold: first to create a self-report scale that measures responsiveness to cuteness and kawaii in three key domains (baby animals, baby humans, and animate objects), and secondly to apply the measure to predicting parental attitudes toward corporal punishment. Currently, there are no self-report measures of this construct in theoretically consistent domains that encompass both cuteness and kawaii. In Study 1, a 15-item Cuteness Responsiveness (CR-15) scale was developed to assess responsiveness to infantile human and non-human kawaii creatures, which is defined as individual differences in the sensitivity to cuteness and readiness for a variety of caretaking behaviors. The CR-15 demonstrated evidence of good psychometric properties and fit into the three-factor structure. In Study 2, we recruited parents with a child/children under the age of 6 to test how responsiveness to cuteness affects parenting using the scale developed in Study 1. The results showed lower responsiveness to cuteness predicted parental approval for corporal punishment, and negative attitudes toward parenting mediated the link. Together, these studies demonstrate that the human baby subscale of the CR-15 can predict a tendency to experience positive emotions in response to infantile creatures and motivation for caretaking behaviors. Implications of cuteness/kawaii responses as a multidimensional construct and future directions are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Alley, T. R. (1981). Head shape and the perception of cuteness. Developmental Psychology, 17, 650–654.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Alley, T. R. (1983). Age-related changes in body proportions, body size, and perceived cuteness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 56, 615–622.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Aragon, O. R., Clark, M. S., Dyer, R. L., & Bargh, J. A. (2015). Dimorphous expressions of positive emotion: Displays of both care and aggression in response to cute stimuli. Psychological Science, 26, 259–273. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614561044.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Batson, C. D., Fultz, J., & Schoenrade, P. A. (1987). Distress and empathy: Two qualitatively distinct vicarious emotions with different motivational consequences. Journal of Personality, 55, 19–39.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bennett, D. S., Sullivan, M. W., & Lewis, M. (2006). Relations of parental report and observation of parenting to maltreatment history. Child Maltreatment, 11, 63–75.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Black, D. A., Heyman, R. E., & Smith Slep, A. M. (2001). Risk factors for child physical abuse. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 6, 121–188.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Borgi, M., Cogliati-Dezza, I., Brelsford, V., Meints, K., & Cirulli, F. (2014). Baby schema in human and animal faces induces cuteness perception and gaze allocation in children. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Buckels, E. E., Beall, A. T., Hofer, M. K., Lin, E. Y., Zhou, Z., & Schaller, M. (2015). Individual differences in activation of the parental care motivational system: Assessment, prediction, and implications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 497–514.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Cohen, S., Kamarch, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385–396.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Crouch, J. L., & Behl, L. E. (2001). Relationships among parental beliefs in corporal punishment, reported stress, and physical child abuse potential. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25, 413–419.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. I. (1985). Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 197–210.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Damashek, A., Nelson, M. M., & Bonner, B. L. (2013). Fatal child maltreatment: Characteristics of deaths from physical abuse versus neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 735–744.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS. Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Deater-Deckard, K., Smith, J., Ivy, L., & Petril, S. A. (2005). Differential perceptions of and feelings about sibling children: Implications for research on parenting stress. Infant and Child Development, 14, 211–225.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Egeland, B., Breitenbucher, M., & Rosenberg, D. (1980). Prospective study of the significance of life stress in the etiology of child abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48, 195–205.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: A three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114, 864–886.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Fleming, A., Corter, C., Stallings, J., & Steiner, M. (2002). Testosterone and prolactin associated with emotional responses to infant cries in new fathers. Hormones and Behavior, 42, 399–413.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Frodi, A. M., & Lamb, M. E. (1980). Child abusers’ responses to infant smiles and cries. Child Development, 51, 238–241.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Fujiwara, T., Yamaoka, Y., & Kawachi, I. (2016). Neighborhood social capital and infant physical abuse: A population-based study in Japan. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 10, 13–19.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. Glocker, M. L., Langleben, D. D., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J. W., Gur, R. C., & Sachser, N. (2009). Baby schema in infant induces cuteness perception and motivation for caretaking in adults. Ethology, 115, 257–263.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. Graham, J., Haidt, J., Koleva, S., Motyl, M., Iyer, R., Wojcik, S. P., & Ditto, P. H. (2013). Moral foundations theory: The pragmatic validity of moral pluralism. In P. Devine & A. Plant (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology (pp. 55–130). London: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 366–385.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. Granziano, A. M. (1994). Why we should study subabusive violence against children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, 412–419.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hildebrandt, K. A., & Fitzgerald, H. E. (1978). Adults’ responses to infants varying in perceived cuteness. Behavioural Processes, 3, 159–172.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Hilson, J. M. C., & Kuiper, N. A. (1994). A stress and coping model of child maltreatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 14, 261–285.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Honda, S., Ishimaru, A., Utsunomiya, S., Yamane, T., Oda, M., Sakamoto, K., Ohe, Y., Kobayashi, H., Arima, T., Kidera, A., & Kosugi, K. (2016). Considering the relation between the Haidt’s moral foundation theory and Japanese morality through developing a new scale. Bulletin of the Faculty of Education, Yamaguchi University, 66, 95–106 Retrieved from http://www.lib.yamaguchi-u.ac.jp/yunoca/handle/C010066000311.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kadushin, A., & Martin, J. A. (1981). Interview study of abuse-event interaction. In A. Kadushin (Ed.), Child abuse: An interactional event (pp. 141–224). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Kanai, Y., & Nittono, H. (2015). Predictive modeling of the feelings of kawaii by empathy and affiliation motives. (In Japanese with English abstract). The Japanese Journal of Personality, 23, 131–141. https://doi.org/10.2132/personality.23.131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kringelbach, M. L., Stark, E. A., Alexander, C., Bornstein, M. H., & Stein, A. (2016). On cuteness: Unlocking the parental brain and beyond. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20, 545–558. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.05.0035.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Lau, A. S., Valeri, S. M., McCarty, C. A., & Weisz, J. R. (2006). Abusive parents’ reports of child behavior problems: Relationship to observed parent-child interactions. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30, 639–655.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Lehmann, V., Huisin’t Veld, E. M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2013). The human and animal baby schema effect: Correlates of individual differences. Behavioural Processes, 94, 99–108.

  33. Little, A. C. (2012). Manipulation of infant-like traits affects perceived cuteness of infant, adult and cat faces. Ethology, 118, 775–782. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2012.02068.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Lobmaier, J. S., Probst, F., Perrett, D. I., & Heinrichs, M. (2015). Menstrual cycle phase affects discrimination of infant cuteness. Hormones and Behavior, 70, 1–6.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Mauss, I. B., & Robinson, M. D. (2009). Measures of emotion: A review. Cognition and Emotion, 23, 209–237.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. May-Chahal, C., & Cawson, P. (2005). Measuring child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 29, 969–984.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Miesler, L., Leder, H., & Herrmann, A. (2011). Isn’t it cute: An evolutionary perspective of baby-schema effects in visual product designs. International Journal of Design, 5, 17–30.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Milner, J. S., & Chilamkurti, C. (1991). Physical child abuse perpetrator characteristics: A review of the literature. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 345–366.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Milner, J. S., Rabenhorst, M. M., McCanne, T. R., Crouch, J. L., Skowronski, J. J., Fleming, M. T., Hiraoka, R., & Risser, H. J. (2011). Event-related potentials: Search for positive and negative child-related schemata in individuals at low ad high risk for child physical abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 35, 249–266.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Nisbett, R. W., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84, 231–259.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Nittono, H. (2016). The two-layer model of “kawaii”: A behavioural science framework for understanding kawaii and cuteness. East Asian Journal of Popular Culture Retrieved from http://cplnet.jp/swfu/d/Nittono2016-Kawaii-review.pdf.

  42. Nittono, H., Fukushima, M., Yano, A., & Moriya, H. (2012). The power of kawaii: Viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus. PLoS One, 7, e46362.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  43. Nittono, H., & Ihara, N. (2017). Psychophysiological responses to kawaii pictures with or without baby schema. SAGE Open, 7, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244017709321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Ohinata, M. (1988). Bosei no kenkyu (maternity research). Kawashima Shoten: Tokyo.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Paulhus, D. L., & Vazire, S. (2007). The self-report method. In R. W. Robbins, R. C. Fraley, & R. F. Krueger (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in personality psychology (pp. 224–239). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2004). SPSS and SAS procedures for estimating indirect effects in simple mediation models. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 717–731.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Proverbio, A. M., de Garbriele, V., Manfredi, M., & Adorni, R. (2011). No race effect (ORE) in the automatic orienting toward baby faces: When ethnic group does not mater. Psychology, 2, 931–935.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Reizer, A., & Mikulincer, M. (2007). Assessing individual differences in working models of caregiving: The construction and validation of the mental representation of caregiving scale. Journal of Individual Differences, 28, 227–239.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Robson, K. S., & Moss, H. A. (1970). Patterns and determinants of maternal attachment. Journal of Pediatrics, 77, 976–985.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Rodriguez, C. M., & Richardson, M. J. (2007). Stress and anger as contextual factors and preexisting cognitive schemas: Predicting parental child maltreatment risk. Child Maltreatment, 12, 325–337.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. Rodriguez, C. M., & Tucker, M. C. (2015). Predicting maternal physical child abuse risk beyond distress and social support: Additive role of cognitive processes. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 1780–1790.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Sakurai, S. (1988). The relationship between empathy and helping behavior in college students. Bulletin of Nara University of Education, 37, 1(Cultural and Social Science), 149–153.

  53. Sherman, G. D., & Haidt, J. (2011). Cuteness and disgust: The humanizing and dehumanizing effects of emotion. Emotion Review, 3, 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sherman, G. D., Haidt, J., & Coan, J. A. (2009). Viewing cute images increases behavioral carefulness. Emotion, 9, 282–286.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Sherman, G. D., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., & Coan, J. A. (2013). Individual differences in the physical embodiment of care: Prosocially oriented women respond to cuteness by becoming more physically careful. Emotion, 13, 151–158.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Sprengelmeyer, R., Perrett, D., Fagan, E. C., Cornwell, R. E., Lobmaier, J. S., Sprengelmeyer, A., Aasheim, H. B. M., Black, I. M., Cameron, L. M., Crow, S., Milne, N., Rhodes, E. C., & Young, A. W. (2009). The cutest little baby face: A hormonal link to sensitivity to cuteness in infant faces. Psychological Science, 20, 149–154.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Stith, S. M., Liu, T., Davies, C., Boykin, E. L., Alder, M. C., Harris, J. M., Som, A., McPherson, M., & Dees, J. E. M. E. G. (2009). Risk factors in child maltreatment: A meta-analytic review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 13-29.

  58. Stoltenborgh, M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., Alink, L. R. A., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2015). The prevalence of child maltreatment across the globe: Review of a series of meta-analyses. Child Abuse Review, 24, 37–50.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Straus, M. A. (1994). Should the use of corporal punishment by parents be considered child abuse? Yes. In M. A. Mason & E. Gambrill (Eds.), Debating children’s lives: Current controversies on children and adolescents (pp. 197–203). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Sumi, K. (2006). Reliability and validity of the Japanese version of the perceived stress scale. The Japanese Journal of Health Psychology, 19, 44–53.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Swain, J. E., Konrath, S., & Ho, S. S. (2012). Parenting and beyond: Common neurocircuits underlying parental and altruistic caregiving. Parenting, science, and practice, 12, 115–123.

    Google Scholar 

  62. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. (2012). Child abuse facts and implication for future policies. Retrieved from: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/seisakunitsuite/bunya/kodomo/kodomo_kosodate/dv/about.html

  63. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. (2015). Guidelines for the prevention of child abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/bunya/kodomo/dv12/00.html

  64. Trickett, P. K., & Kuczynski, L. (1986). Children’s misbehaviors and parental discipline strategies in abusive and nonabusive families. Developmental Psychology, 22, 115–123.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Tucker, M. C., & Rodriguez, C. M. (2014). Family dysfunction and social isolation as moderators between stress and child physical abuse risk. Journal of Family Violence, 29, 175–186.

    Google Scholar 

  66. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. (2007). Child maltreatment 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  67. US Department of Health and Human Services (2010). Administration on Children, Youth and Families: Child Maltreatment 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov.

  68. WHO - World Health Organization and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. (2006). Preventing child maltreatment: A guide to taking action and generating evidence. Geneva: WHO Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Yano, C. R. (2013). Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty and Its Trek Across the Pacific. Durham. Duke University Press.

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hiroshi Nittono who provided helpful comments on the conceptualization of kawaii as a positive emotion.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Reina Takamatsu.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

There is no potential conflict of interest pertaining to this submission to Current Psychology.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Takamatsu, R. Measuring Affective Responses to Cuteness and Japanese kawaii as a Multidimensional Construct. Curr Psychol 39, 1362–1374 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-9836-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Cuteness
  • Baby schema effect
  • Scale development
  • Parenting