The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Beyond Mickey Mouse: Perpetuating Cartoon Paedomorphosis


Anthropology, Montana Tech

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

As K-selected species that give birth to altricial young, humans have evolved a keen preference for cuteness. Our increased cultural penchants for paedomorphic appeal, or Kindchenschema as described by Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz, was demonstrated in Stephen Jay Gould’s classic 1979 article Mickey Mouse meets Konrad Lorenz. Gould documented the evolution of Mickey Mouse's craniofacial morphology and revealed a steady shift toward overtly accentuated paedomorphic traits across this 50-year timespan.

In the current study, craniofacial changes were analyzed in a large sample of 230 human cartoon characters drawn from multiple North American programs spanning an 84-year period (1932 – 2016), to examine whether the accentuation of paedomorphic traits has persisted across a broader range of characters since Gould’s study. Following Gould’s 1979 methods, digital calipers were used to measure and calculate eye/head, eye/face, and face/head height ratios for each individual in the sample, and regression analyses were carried out to test whether these craniofacial ratios changed over time. Each character’s time designation was represented by the year their respective movie or television program first aired, and all characters were randomly selected by a research assistant blind to the study objectives to reduce selection bias.

Results demonstrated that each of the above ratios was significantly correlated with time, and the direction of this change was consistent with a patent shift toward more neotenous craniofacial traits. This trend, and particularly a marked increase in relative eye height, exemplifies the sustained importance of Kindchenschema in North American society.