Category Archives: Blog Project Prompts

Blog Post 2: A Cute Stapler to Escape Routine Life

cute image

Have you ever thought to yourself: 'Woah that baby is ugly?'  I didn't think so!

My friend recently had a baby, and while meeting the new baby I repeated similar phrases of "aww, so cute, adorable, precious," etc.  No one would argue that babies provoke a universal, joyful response.

What makes objects cute and desirable?  Whether the size, color, or design,  it seems that any object that takes us away from the average, mundane circumstance is classified as fun, and thus desirable.  Am I the only one that can be motivated to do schoolwork by purchasing cool supplies?

I was intrigued to research what exactly made things cute and what effect cuteness has on individuals.  Through my research I discovered that cuteness comes in multiple types, but they evoke different responses.  One form of cuteness provokes a selfish response, while another encourages a care-taking emotion. Regardless of the reason for desire, the responses are biological and inherent in all humans.

Plenty of research exists to support that seeing a baby provokes  biological response in humans with or without children.  An article called "Viewing Cute Images Increases Behavioral Carefulness" supports "that tendency to respond emotionally to infantile physical features may promote the provision of care, especially to infants, who are otherwise helpless due to their physical and neural immaturity" (282).  Humans instinctively want to help those who appear helpless, and therefore are seen as desirable - cute.   This article suggests there is more to learn about the behavioral effect of helpless images, and presents studies I recommend viewing.

A really interesting article entitled "So Cute I Could eat it up,"  by Nenkov and Scott, argues that there are two kinds of cuteness that impacts consumer behavior:  kindchenschema and whimsical cuteness.  According to the article, cuteness refers to the "collection of cute features in newborns (e.g., bulging forehead, large eyes, rounded cheeks)" (326).  Whimsical cuteness is the less discussed, "associated with capricious humor and playful disposition" (327).  I found it interesting to discover that there are two distinctions of cuteness that elicit opposite responses in shoppers.

The same article presents studies to determine how the type of cuteness influences consumers. Amazon gift cards were compared, proving that when shoppers see kindchenschema objects associated with infancy, their caretaker, vulnerable instinct steps in and allows them to think of others before themselves (338).   Various ice cream scoopers and staplers were presented to consumers to study the effect of whimsical cuteness.  The out of the ordinary objects dominated because they activate the consumers "reward" center of the brain, thus provoking a more selfish, indulgent desire (338).   We all have inherent need for reward and fun, which explains the psychological attraction to such objects. Like whimsical items provoke a selfish desire,I believe the talsmic items that Marovich presents in also represent the selfish desire of good luck and success, although natural.

The article by Nenkov and Scott suggest that people choose to indulge in whimsical products because they feel they deserve an escape from the reality of responsibilities (340).  In other words, they become indulgent to reward themselves for performing so well in other aspects of life.  We all have inherent need for reward and fun, which explains the psychological attraction to such objects. Like whimsical items provoke a selfish desire, I believe the talsmic items that Marovich presents in "The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals" also represent the selfish desire of good luck and success, although natural.

These responses that objects provoke are surely biological as they trace back to the feelings humans have been experiencing for as long as we have known.  Interestingly enough, items that are both labeled as "cute" can have opposite effects.  Next time you are in the store, ask yourself why you are attracted to a particular item.  Is it for a selfish reason?  Is it out of thought for another person?  Until then, watch this super cute YouTube video!


Image and Video Credit:

Baby Photo:

YouTube video:

#2: Cuteness is Evolutionary

What makes something or someone cute? According to ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, cuteness consists of having huge eyes, a small body, and round cuddly features. Looking at something  cute triggers our pleasure centre in the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens, which gives us happiness due to the released dopamine. Why we perceive certain traits as "cute" could be due to evolution. Humans have developed a strong bias for what features are considered cute, that we automatically disapprove of anything else as "ugly." It has gotten to the point where we have bred our pets to look and behave in a certain way that relates to being cute (e.g. playful, child-like, unaggressive).

"Babies didn't evolve to be cute. We evolved  to think that babies are cute."

Cuteness triggers a nurturing instinct in adults to look after anything that resembles a cute little baby. The qualities of cuteness transfers to non-human creatures and objects as well, such as the Hello Kitty doll. This makes me question whether cuteness always relates to nurturing. Anything that looks helpless and innocent is viewed as cute, and we always want to cuddle it and take care of it. In a study done by the journal, Frontier, they concluded that "The effect of facial appearance on cuteness and attractiveness was shown to be tied to human interest in infants and motivation to care." The reason why we define some things as cute or ugly is that we are using a criteria that have evolved to help us evaluate our own species.

Post #2, Cuteness as an evolutionary defense

After conducting some quick research and combining it with what I already know about cuteness, I found that animals and humans appearing cute is an evolutionary defense to receive protection and nurture from older members. It makes sense if you think about it, babies appear as cute to us and therefore receive constant attention and protection. This goes for baby animals and even cartoon characters.

A group study done by the journal Frontiers, a developmental psychology work, found that children and adults will actually look at cute things longer.  By manipulating images to give them baby schema facial features (round face, big eyes, and small nose and mouth) the study found that the same image manipulated to appear cuter was viewed more than it's less cute counterparts.

Baby schema in human and animal faces induces cuteness perception study
Credit: Frontiers Journal

With this in mind, I shift my focus to the work of Konrad Lorenz. If you Google why animals are cute his works shows up multiple times. He analyzed why infants and baby animals are cute and came up with the term  Kinderschema, which refers to facial characteristics. In a book by Gerald C. Cupchik and Janos Laszlo, they summarize Lorenz's findings and explain each feature in the baby schema and why it receives a nurturing instinct. For example, they say that large eyes are cute because they convey kindness, naivety, and warmth. 

So in conclusion, cute things are cute to survive. I think modern culture has taken it to a sort of idol status, but the evolutionary reason for us to perceive animals and babies as cute is so they can be protected. I realize this might not be universal, Japan has transformed kawaii into attractiveness, but the basic principal is a psychological response.

and now, a cute puppy!

the beagle - one of the cutest puppy breeds


#1: Object Students and Droppables

In his article, Maguire makes an argument for how we ought to go about solving the growing issue of the writing skill of students in our educational system. Much like the sophists of ancient Greece used rhetoric to persuade audiences of its importance and value, Maguire cleverly employs his suggested technique in his own argument. He does this by first turning the very students he says should be taught to write using objects into objects themselves. As opposed to working with the abstract concept of “students,” Maguire turns them into objects that have or lack certain skills: “It's a crucial question for those who want to reform the teaching of writing, because once you ask what skills are missing, you can make a list and start a counter-attack.”

In regards to our readings for this week, Maguire strays from Czikszentmihalyi's breakdown of objects. Out of the three categories offered by Czikszentmihalyi, Maguire's “student objects” are most closely related to the continuity of self, as these students could be argued to be an extension of our greater society and what it is capable of creating. After all, Maguire does not believe that these students are inherently to blame for their lack of success in the field of writing, but rather the educational system itself. Likewise, Prown would see these “student objects” as an indication of our culture's current treatment of education. The “style” in this circumstance would be the very skill sets Maguire is assessing.

If asked to produce a set of items with which to begin discussing difficulties I have encountered in my writing process, I would have to describe my immediate surroundings. My “droppable” items would be my laptop, and the figurative weight of its keyboard, writing outlines and their sticky text, and the most frustrating, the swell of sound around me, ranging from silence of the hum of students in the library. These may not point directly towards the issues Maguire addresses in his article, but I can see how these concrete objects are stepping stones to delve into deeper meanings.

Blog Post #2: Cute Things

What makes one thing cute and another grotesque or uncanny? Some of the authors we have read so far suggest objects have inherent properties that make them "open" or "closed," (Prown) or "masculine" or "feminine" (Czikszentmihalyi). Can something be inherently cute, or is cuteness a property cultures or individuals project onto objects? Beatrice Marovich poses these and other related questions in her essay on "The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals":

[S]ites like BuzzFeed Animals remind us, daily, of the powerful authority of cute animals, who do cute things that make us stop everything and just look. Researchers are already trying to unlock the enigmatic secrets of this “Power of Kawaii” (Japanese for “cute”). It appears to hold valuable treasures—such as the ability to turn humans (who look at pictures of cute animals) into more productive workers. There are interesting questions to pursue here: what is this “power”, in the first place? Where does it come from? Why does it work? But I won’t pursue them now. Instead, I want to suggest that there’s something in this alleged power that seems to leave animals vulnerable to becoming talismanic. Continue reading Blog Post #2: Cute Things

Blog Post 1: Break it Down

I enjoyed Maguire’s article because it showed a side to writing that I never even considered before and shone light on how I often respond to abstract idea-writing prompts. I have to say that I do agree with the characterization of student writing as the author presented it. In several English classes, we either had to read other students’ blog posts or peer preview our papers. It was interesting to see many college students not exactly writing at college level. Even I, after rereading some of my papers, can see how I rambled and fumbled around to try and get my point across. I hoped that under all that repetition and possible nonsense that I made enough sense to convey some knowledge on whatever topic I was writing about. Maguire states that student papers are often unreadable because of bad grammar, incomplete sentences and being far too abstract. Personally I am not offended by these characterizations only because there is no denying I have made some of these mistakes before, specifically the being too abstract in my writing. I have always found it hard to zero in on a specific idea and do a really fantastic job explaining myself without running in circles.

Because I know my writing can always be improved, I think Maguire’s argument of object-based writing is very helpful to me, especially in the areas I could use improvement on. He states, “When you boil it down, all abstract ideas derive from objects. You can approach them in that concrete way and teach students to do the same” (Maguire). His statement and example of using concrete nouns really stuck out to me. It is easier to start describing an abstract idea through the use of concrete nouns. Students, including me, need to understand that all abstract ideas summarize a set of physical facts and can be accurately written about if that is remembered. I’d like to think of it as a sort of pyramid. You start very broad with objects that could be used with your abstract idea and then you can get more specific as you move along. This can assist the audience reading your work and even help you keep writing in a logical sense. I believe Maguire’s article depicts the idea of objects in a more comprehendible way than the Czikszentmihalyi and Prown readings we did this week.


Simplify It

In "The Secret to Good Writing: It's About Objects, Not Ideas," John Maguire stresses the importance of the objectification in writing. Oftentimes, students are not keen on exactly how an assignment should go thus they opt to take the path of being abstract to cover a multitude of bases. The essay does not only outline the importance of being more specific in writing but as Maguire explains the necessary improvements, he exemplifies it in his writing. He is basically taking his own advice in the essay. Maguire basically “practices what he preaches” as he writes the essay. He lays out a problem, gives a solution, and in turn, uses the solution in his writing. His mentioning of the Henry Fowler statement is spot on to how I feel about student writers.

“A writer uses abstract words because his thoughts are cloudy; the habit of using them      clouds his thoughts still further; he may end by concealing his meaning not only from his       readers but also from himself.”

Many times, the prompts given by instructors are either not very clear, too short, or they are verbose thus not really giving the student a concrete basis for writing. The prompts of assignments spearhead the writings of students thus if the prompt’s foundation is shaky, the writing from the student will be as well. It is imperative that prompts are concise, clear, and extremely specific so that there is no confusing on what is to be written.

Adversely, some instructors give clear and concrete instructions but the student feels that it is necessary to go beyond the scope of the prompt so that there is “diversity” in the writing but that can be catastrophic. Simplicity is sometimes seen as a negative in writing due to its abstract nature. Students feel like they have something to prove thus by attempting to be abstract, the true purpose of the writing is lost in a black hole

Maguire’s solutions are straightforward and easily understandable which is often lacked in today’s writing courses from students. Life is often very simple thus the educational curriculums should follow that model of simplicity in writing and literature.

Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

In his essay for The Atlantic, "The Secret to Good Writing: It's About Objects, Not Ideas," John Maguire argues student writers and writing instruction are too focused on abstract ideas. In fact, he contends that "[s]tudent papers are often unreadable" (His words, not mine!) "because they are way, way too abstract." Rather than asking students to grapple with abstract ideas from the outset, Maguire argues writing teachers should instead get students to focus on the physical world, and let the abstract ideas emerge from that emphasis:

An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with those in mind, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do, in fact, take that approach. "If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it," I say. "Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered."

To some extent this course, with its focus on material objects or "artifacts," puts Maguire's assertion to the test. Continue reading Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture