This Is Your Brain on Puppy Pictures

This National Puppy Day, we explore the science of cute with the help of vintage National Geographic pictures.

For National Puppy Day, we created an adorable photo gallery that shows puppies playing with each other, posing for the camera, and interacting with people around them. But what is it that makes them seem so cute as they melt our hearts?

English setter puppies sit next to a young Scottish girl.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILLIAM REID, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Puppies gather outside of a doghouse.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILLIAM REID, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

An Eskimo girl in Greenland poses with a white sled dog puppy on a blanket.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADM. DONALD B. MACMILLAN

A young boy in Scotland holds a puppy.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILIAM REID, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Young children in the Gansu Province of the People's Republic of China pose for the camera with a small dog.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS

Puppies pull a play sledge for the amusement of a supply officer during Richard E. Byrd s first Antarctic expedition.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PARAMOUNT PUBLIX CORP, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

A young Eskimo girl holds a puppy outside of an expedition tent.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Puppies are fed at a dog food company's laboratory in Chicago.
PHOTOGRAPH BY J. BAYLOR ROBERTS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

A man in Canada's Northwest Territories hugs puppies destined to become treasured members of a dog team.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WINFIELD PARKS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Three Chow-Chow puppies sit for a photographer.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILLIAM REID, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

A naked Maya child holds two puppies in Mexico.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LUIS MARDEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

A Caribou Inuit girl holds her Canadian Eskimo dog puppy.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NORBERT ROSING, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

The leading theory, known as the "baby schema" effect, says a release of the chemicals dopamine and oxytocin is triggered in the brain when humans look at puppies. The same chemicals are released when we look at babies, and similar chemicals are released when we fall in love.

This chemical release is triggered by visual cues in baby mammals, including a large head relative to body size, big eyes, rounded body shape, and soft body surfaces. Since human babies are helpless for many months, our biological response to them makes us want to care for and protect them, so it's an evolutionary advantage for our species.
But it also means we feel happy when we see puppies, whether in real life or in a photo gallery celebrating the furry, wiggly bundles of cuteness.

National Puppy Day, created by author Colleen Paige in 2006, aims to highlight the abuse of puppy mills and promote the adoption of puppies. So if you're thinking of bringing one into your home for your own dose of regular happiness, consider this gallery to be a gentle nudge in that direction.

Header Image: Two Canadian Eskimo puppies peek out from their cardboard shelter. PHOTOGRAPH BY NORBET ROSING, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

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