Aesthetic and value judgment of neotenous objects: Cuteness as a design factor and its effects on product evaluation

by Cho, Sookyung, Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, 2012, 107 pages; 3530570


From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, neoteny entails the specific appearance and traits of babies that tend to trigger protective behaviors by adults. Based on Lorenz (1970), five dimensions of neotenic cues were examined. The following exploratory study was designed to identify whether those determinants of perceived cuteness could be applied to abstract geometric forms. Participants were asked to design a cute rectangle by adjusting the size, proportion, roundness, rotation, and color of the figure. The outcome figures indicated a propensity toward forms that were relatively small, round-cornered, slightly tilted, and light-colored. Findings support the idea that smallness, roundness, tiltedness, and lightness of color can serve as determinants of perceived cuteness in artifact design. However, the evaluation of neotenic designs was mediated by the meaning of cuteness, and this pattern was supported by data collected in two countries, the United States and Korea. This cultural difference can be accounted for by an attitude toward youthfulness.

Furthermore, cultural differences in aesthetic judgment of cuteness in design and its influence on product choice were investigated. The asymmetric dominance paradigm was adapted to understand how the cuteness of a product influences choice behavior among consumers. The study examined whether the introduction of a cute product would trigger an attraction, a compromise, or a polarization effect on existing products. The findings suggest a cultural dependence based on how cuteness is evaluated: the attraction effect of a cute decoy was reversed – i.e., in the U.S., the cute decoy seemed to attract the choice share of the cute product, while in Korea, the cute decoy contributed to an increase in the choice share of the non-cute product rather than the cute dominating product. The attraction, compromise, and polarization effects were more pronounced in the U.S. where cuteness was more negatively evaluated.

AdvisersRichard D. Gonzalez; Carolyn Yung-Jin Yoon
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMarketing; Design; Social psychology
Publication Number3530570

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