Poll update

April 11, 2012 • 1:10 pm

Well, at the cats vs. dogs vs. babies poll at Pajiba, cats are ahead by a comfortable 20%, having overcome a 7% deficit yesterday to surge to a commanding lead. Because they were on top at noon today, I’ll award, as promised, an autographed copy of WEIT to a randomly-selected reader who attests to their vote on the thread after my preceding post.

The results as of a few minutes ago (3:08 CST):

But don’t be complacent if you’re coming to this poll for the first time. Dog people are tenacious in their misguided love of those foul-smelling canid sycophants, and could easily mount a counteroffensive. If you haven’t voted yet, vote here but record your vote for my contest here.  I’ll keep the thread open until they close the poll.

The winner will be chosen using a random-number generator.

One result, which struck me as well as an alert reader, is the disdain for baby pictures.  Evolutionary psychology tells us that human babies should be far, far more appealing in appearance than kittens, otters, or dogs, for we’re evolved to bond with human infants but not kittehs.  Yet many of us—I’m included here—find the appearance of human larvae either repugnant or a matter of indifference. I tend to view them as small animated hamburgers who become worthy of attention only with about six years of ageing.  If evolutionary psychology is correct, either the internet should be loaded with pictures of babies, or human infants should resemble kittens. It’s a mystery.

42 thoughts on “Poll update

  1. Well, if we wanted to take our expectations from evolutionary psychology, then we shouldn’t expect babies to be cute to everyone at all times. I think it is pretty solidly demonstrated that hormonal changes int he parents (particularly the mother, but also in the father) before and following birth lead to attachment and a re-evaluation of the cuteness of babies.

    Of course there is the hypothesis that our view of kittens as cute is co-opted by our incentive to find our own offspring cute. But maybe we can reject this hypothesis in light of the prevalence of views like those held by Jerry. Kittehs apparently have their own independently derived cuteness factor! :-p

    1. I think you got part of it. Our babies are extremely cute to us. More cute than kittens. Other people’s babies? Not so much.

      I know for me, another part of it is a response to (irrationally) perceived need. I kinda assume any baby I see has an adult caring for it. I don’t need to step in. But I think whenever the primitive part of my brain sees a kitten, it says “I need to take care of that, in case nobody else does.”

  2. I’ve spent considerable time in the company of human infants (two in particular). They’re cute and amusing and all, but diapers need changing more often than litter boxen, are more disgusting, and the users of the former take far longer to learn to control their bodily functions than the latter. Four years of that was enough; it’s just as well when they grow up and stop being cute.

    Kittens FTW!

      1. They must’ve known he wouldn’t be able to crash that poll, what with him being confined to a tin can in the sky for a huge number of hours.

  3. About babies versus kittens, here’s my late-night-in-berlin-with-a-glass-of-wine-theory: give any human a choice between a kitten or a picture of their own offspring as a baby, and they are forced, even against better knowledge, to choose their offspring’s picture. But if you let them choose between a kitten and someone else’s baby face, well, of course there is no question! Something similar occurs with parents believing in the genius of their own children, whereas everybody else’s children are, of course, only mediocre.

  4. Maybe the cuteness of baby animals is partly a defence against predators who might find them cute? Doesn’t seem to work on the Serengeti, but maybe it works against more part-time predators?

    Also, I’m sure I read somewhere that human babies are born in a relatively undeveloped state, so maybe a kitteh is more the equivalent of a toddler than a baby.

  5. The baby picture loss in the poll is indeed curious. I have always assumed the human cute obsession was leakage from built-in baby-obsession, but this is significant evidence against that.

    My own case is a curious mix of what you’d expect from evolutionary psychology and some mysteries. Before I had a baby I didn’t care for babies in any fashion. Ugly and unappealing. Once I had a baby, though, a billion years of evolution kicked in and I found I was obsessed with mine. She was cute to me, though other babies still weren’t. That makes sense. As my child became a toddler, I started to notice other babies when they were physically near me and found myself paying attention to them, wanting to hold them, and so on. That makes some sense too, since if I’ve fathered another baby, it needs my attention more than my toddler, and so I’m receptive and on the lookout for other infant children (who, so far as the ancient parts of my brain are concerned, might be mine). At NO point in this process, though, did I find mere photos of other people’s babies even remotely interesting. It is as if my positive response to babies required both my daughter to stop being a baby herself and for other babies to actually be within two feet of me (pheromones?). Now that my daughter is older, I find even her baby photos much less attractive than I recall.

    So most of this makes a bit of sense from an evolutionary psychology perspective. But throw in cats, and it’s a puzzle. Both before and after I had a daughter, I found cats and kittens appealing both in person and in photos. Where would such a preference come from if not from some misapplied nurturing instinct? Maybe the recognition of “cute” in kittens is more related to how one might see a five year old as “cute”. Maybe response to babies is not visual, but smell and tactile, but response to older children is visual, and it’s that response that bleeds over into kittens and puppies. But if so, why aren’t small children photos more popular? Maybe the features we key in on to find children appealing (eye to head ratio?) are even more exaggerated in kittens and puppies, making them sort of super-small-children to our brain?

    Of course, we know that we are just making explanatory work for ourselves here. Obviously we find kittens appealing because that’s how Ceiling Cat wants it, and puppies are appealing due to the nefarious work of Basement Cat.

    1. I think kittens and puppies are what’s called a super-normal stimulus, ie. the attributes of babies that trigger the “Aaaaawwwwww” centers of the brain are projected to an even greater degree by the animals. That, and the background awareness of just how much of a nuisance babies are, tends to ensure that only one’s own babies are cute. Other people’s kids are OK, but only in limited doses.

      1. Thanks. I’ve needed a term for that for a long time (but not consciously enough to bother to look for it).

  6. If you’re truly serious about upending this poll ask PZ Myers to have his posse pharyngulate it for you… Careful though, if they decide they like puppies or babies you’re sunk.

    1. :-O

      No, no, no. PZ’s perverse nature would have him call forth his hoard to up vote babies (they look more like his beloved squid than either puppies or kittens) just to frustrate the WEIT ailurophile vote.

    2. PZ has attempted to pharyngulate a few polls since his meltdown last year. His readership, having declined as dramatically as it has (all of which stats are publicly available if one cares to look them up), doesn’t exactly have the ability to crash a poll anymore. A link from Jerry generates more traffic than one by PZ these days.

      1. Citation needed.

        I don’t know the stats for PZ specifically, but Alexia (I know, I know…) shows that science blogs and free thought blogs have comparable traffic–Alexia, AFIK, doesn’t show the stats for directories rather than domains, so I don’t know the percentage that is just PZ’s, but he is supposed to be one of the, if not the, highest traffic blogs. WEIT, as an individual blog (er, website) is much lower than the collective blogs) in traffic. If you have evidence that WEIT gets more traffic than PZ, please show your work.

        1. Well, I know the following:

          immediately before elevatorgate, a mention by PZ was about 11.3k visits. (last June)

          following elevatorgate, a mention by PZ was about 2.7k visits (last August)

          a mention in an article here was about 1.3k visits. (this February)

          A week or so ago, PZ sent the horde to crash a poll on blaghag’s blog, which earned a vehement rebuke by her for his being a fucking asshole who messed up her data and requiring her to go through and deal with the logs of something like 400 people coming from pharyngula.

          It’s anecdata, of course, but there it is nevertheless.

    1. I do believe that is what is known as divine intervention. Hell, since it’s Greek philosophy, let’s just call it the deus ex machina.

      Absolutely hysterically funny though.

    1. They’re like Furbies!

      Plus, it’s highly unusual for cats to talk to each other, though they do tend to be more vocal with with humans (that’s probably because we respond to commands in a way that other cats know they don’t have to).

      1. Our cats are pretty vocal with us, true. However, I’ve seen them talk to a few of the strays that wander into the garden.

        Just yesterday, I overheard our cat talking, making sounds (just like those two cutie-pies in the video)at the glass sliding door. I was not near her. She generally doesn’t like strange cats. I investigated and spotted a neighbour’s cat on the other side of the door … a gorgeous Siamese cross. They obviously liked each other (both spayed females)

        To be honest though, I really don’t know if her vocalizations were an attempt to alert me to the stranger in our midst. I have heard our other cat make similar soft chirring sounds, while watching a brood of adult sparrows and their babies visit the feeder.

  7. …misguided love of those foul-smelling canid sycophants…

    Just as I read that phrase, my foul-smelling canid sycophant jumped up and starting licking my knee.

  8. I voted all of the above. Dogs, cats, and kids are all cute to me, but I do encounter exceptions from time to time.

  9. The trouble with the baby vote is nobody mentioned if it was raw, roasted or boiled. We atheists are very peculiar about our meals.

  10. JERRY

    “foul-smelling canid” ?
    – it is one thing playing around with the dog v cat thing and taking sides in a lighthearted manner, but that remark is open to interpretation. Interpretation that includes you actually meaning it or the lesser – exaggerating the negative portrayal to promote the cat. Either way it is generally a lie and you know it !

    So, could I go ahead and refer to cats as aids riddled little bastards ? After all, I am a dog person (black lab).

  11. Think about what survival advantage it would be for a group of animals to have members who like little other animals and keep them around and tame.

    In times when no other food was available, they had a bit more nourishment available than groups whose members had not cultivated these relationships.

    No doubt it would horrify those who had nurtured the other animals, but the group members who did this would survive and the chance of the nurturing genes being passed on (assuming the group members were related) would be better than the chance of non-nurturing groups’ genes being passed on.

    Of course, this is a just-so story; it is not an hypothesis that there is any evidence to be gathered for. It just makes sense to me until there is evidence for some other reason. Not that I like thinking about it one bit – I’d have died defending mine, or so I like to think.

  12. “I tend to view them as small animated hamburgers who become worthy of attention only with about six years of ageing.”

    But that’s only because you’re a baby-eating atheist. (Apologies if somebody already made above this obvious remark.)

  13. “If evolutionary psychology is correct, either the internet should be loaded with pictures of babies, or human infants should resemble kittens. It’s a mystery..”

    Well, since most of EP is just a series of just-so stories masquerading as science, I don’t think that there is any mystery.

  14. I’m guessing it has to do with supply and demand. Walk around the supermarket, and you’re almost certain to see a cuddly little baby. Not so much a puppy or a kitteh.

  15. The squid have just been directed by their leader to vote for “none of the above”. We may see movement in an unfavorable direction. In response, I voted for cats a second time — and now my dog is looking at me in a disappointed sort of way.

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