Children as young as 3 recognise "cute" features that encourage caregiving in adults, a study has found.

Even before they start school, children rate puppies, kittens and babies as "cuter" than their adult counterparts.

The researchers conducted two experiments with children aged 3 to 6. One tracked eye movements to see which facial areas children were drawn to.

The other assessed how cute children rated animals and humans with infantile traits. Images of human adults and babies, dogs, puppies, cats and kittens were digitally manipulated to make them appear "cuter".

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The same photos were also made less cute by giving subjects more adult-like features, such as a narrow face, low forehead and small eyes.

Although the participants gave different cuteness scores to dogs, cats and humans, they all found the images of adult dog faces cuter than both adult cats and human faces. The findings appear in the journal Frontiers In Psychology.

- AAP