New studies suggest that cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine, which could explain why everybody in the panda house wore a big grin. At the same time, said Denis Dutton, a philosopher of art at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the rapidity and promiscuity of the cute response makes the impulse suspect, readily overridden by the angry sense that one is being exploited or deceived.A person's idea of cuteness (or any level of attractiveness, from the magnificently beautiful to the obscenely grotesque) is cultural to an extent. Many young American girls think that Hello! Kitty is a cute thing, but in Japan, "truck drivers display Hello Kitty-style figurines on their dashboards." I haven't seen that here in American truck drivers but maybe I need to look more closely at their dashboards.
"Cute cuts through all layers of meaning and says, Let's not worry about complexities, just love me," said Dr. Dutton, who is writing a book about Darwinian aesthetics. "That's where the sense of cheapness can come from, and the feeling of being manipulated or taken for a sucker that leads many to reject cuteness as low or shallow."
There are some identifiable physical features that help in determining if something is cute or not: small round nose, eyes facing forward, wrinkled skin, to name a few. These features helped America in 1982 to qualify E.T. as "cute," rather than as some ugly alien dude that loved Reese's Pieces.