Forewarning: To understand this article, you’re probably going to have to have read Richard Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene“.
Kittens/puppys/ducklings/foals are undeniably cute and lovable. But why do we all think this? Ostensibly, it seems that thinking of a duckling as “cute” makes no more sense than finding a pile of bricks cute. What is it about these wee critters that causes a seemingly universal emotional response in humans?
One might argue that they remind us of our own offspring, or that their helplessness is appealing, but again, there should be an identifiable reason that these responses are universal.
I argue, that in the context of selfish gene theory, this emotional response could be explained as a mechanism that prevents you from eating the young of closely related species (or more specifically, other survival machines who share a large proportion of your genes). From your genes point of view, ~90% of which are shared with a kitten, it makes no sense for you to eat a younger animal for dinner, given an available alternative. If your genes were to allow this, it would mean removing this particular “survival machine” from the population before it has reached an age where it can reproduce and has a chance to propagate its own genetic material, which would not give this particular combination of genetic material a fair shot at propagation (as opposed to a mature animal who has had their chance). For the 90% of homologous genes which are shared between you and a cat/kitten, it is more advantageous for THOSE GENES that you to eat the older animal (who has reached a reproductive age) for brunch/supper. The older “survival machine” has had a fairer chance to produce an offspring as well as being in a fairer position to avoid being eaten (if the particular combination of genes which it possesses have made it smart enough).
Hence why our genes program this universal emotional response. And as it happens it seems that this response also exists in other species!