Why Are Cats So Cute?

By Allegra Ringo

It's a big question, but someone has to answer it: Why do humans think cats are so cute?

Granted, not everyone feels this way. Debates between "cat people" and "dog people" rage on. But there's no denying that cats are beloved by huge numbers of humans. Although some argue that dogs recently overtook cats in internet popularity, no one denies that cats were No. 1 on the internet for years (and some argue that they still are).

Dogs, as you may know, co-evolved with us humans over tens of thousands of years. Our co-evolution has yielded a unique bond between humans and dogs: We understand each other exceptionally well. The same is not true of cats, whom we definitely did not co-evolve with. Cats essentially decided to start hanging around humans when agriculture came to be, providing cats with a nonstop buffet of vermin. This relationship was mutually beneficial, but not exactly warm and fuzzy. So what is it about cats that we can't get enough of?

Kitten meowing
credit: Martin Poole/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Bryan Lufkin at Gizmodo argues that cats' relatively aloof behavior puts us in the intriguing position of voyeur. In stark contrast to dogs, who generally wear their hearts on their sleeves, cats rarely acknowledge the camera, and project an air of being unaffected by what's going on around them. Though this argument is centered around cats in photos and videos, the same concept may also extend to cats "in real life." Cats lead their own lives, and it's fun and cute to watch them go about their business. Plus, their unreadable faces make them the perfect blank canvas onto which we can project our human thoughts. Anthropomorphizing animals is the most fun pastime of all.

Additionally, cats generally do not give out affection as easily as dogs, so when you do get a cat's affection, it might feel like a victory. That's not to say that cats can't be affectionate. John Bradshaw, feline researcher and author of the book Cat Sense, told Popular Science there's evidence that indicates cats really do show affection toward humans. "Superficially, [rubbing against humans] looks like scent marking," says Bradshaw. However, "the display that goes on when a cat raises its tail and rubs its sides against another cat, or a person, is a social action."

Cats sometimes even have a favorite person or people to whom they show the most affection, giving these special few an extra reason to gloat.

Okay, and there's a small chance your cat gave you toxoplasmosis, a parasite that makes you crazy about cats. But that's probably not it. Right? Right?