Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratory, Osaka University, Japan --- Contribute to Society by Psychology


Behavioral Science of Kawaii
(Created on April 6, 2010, updated on May 30, 2017)


  • A new paper "Psychophysiological responses to kawaii pictures with or without baby schema" was accepted for publication in SAGE Open. (April 19, 2017)
  • Our project "Kawaii-mono kenkyukai (research group on kawaii goods)" has an exhibition booth at Tokyo International Gift Show on February 4-6, 2015.
  • Featured in "Research Now" on the official website of Hiroshima University.
  • Our PLoS ONE paper (published on September 26, 2012) has been featured in more than 70 online media articles (Media Coverage).
  • The first academic paper with the title word "kawaii" among more than 22 milion citations indexed in PubMed!

Kawaii is a key concept that characterizes modern Japanese culture. It is often translated as "cute," but a subtle difference of nuance exists between the two words.

Recently, I have proposed a two-layer model of kawaii as an empirical research framework for understanding kawaii from a behavioral science perspective.

This model postulates that the basis of kawaii is a positive emotion related to the social motivation of protecting and nurturing others, which originally stems from affection toward babies and infants. It also assumes that this culture-independent, biological trait has been amplified by certain characteristics of Japanese culture, such as amae (behavior or motivation to gain others' love and acceptance) and chizimi shikou (orientation toward smallness/miniatures).

Using this framework and psychophysiological techniques, we are now conducting several empirical studies to address questions including

  1. the similarities and differences between the feeling of kawaii toward babies and the feeling of kawaii toward nonliving things,
  2. the differences between the kawaii feeling and other positive feelings,
  3. the behavioral changes that occur after encountering kawaii things, and
  4. the cultural and individual differences in the scope of kawaii and in attitudes toward kawaii things.

You can see the gist of our framework and the summary of three surveys of 685 Japanese university students about kawaii in the following paper.

Nittono, H. (2010). A behavioral science framework for understanding kawaii. Proceedings of the Third International Workshop on Kansei (Fukuoka, 2010.2.22-23). pp. 80-83.

Featured in "Research Now" on the official website of Hiroshima University [Dec 28, 2012].

Nittono, H. (2016). The two-layer model of "kawaii": A behavioural science framework for understanding kawaii and cuteness. East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, 2(1), 79-95. doi:10.1386/eapc.2.1.79_1 *OPEN ACCESS*

This is the latest integrative review paper on my two-layer model of kawaii. It is published on a special issue "Cute Studies" (April 2016).

kawaii as an emotion

In this paper, I argue that kawaii is not a response to the baby schema. Rather, it is an emotion that is induced by various factors, and the baby schema is just an example. Moreover, I propose that, because previous research on cuteness has been almost exclusively associated with infant physical attractiveness and baby schema, using the relatively fresh, exotic word kawaii may be helpful to describe this broader psychological concept.

My PLoS ONE paper is the first academic paper with the title word "kawaii" among more than 22 milion citations indexed in PubMed!

Nittono, H., Fukushima, M., Yano, A., & Moriya, H. (2012). The power of kawaii: Viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus. PLoS ONE, 7(9), e46362.

This paper describes three experiments by which we demonstrated that viewing cute things makes us more attantive and focused on the details of the objects.

Media Coverage reported by PLOS ONE (over 70 articles)

My own writings: The Conversation (October 5, 2012), Adapt International Bulletin (No. 32/2012)

Cross-cultural collaborations are welcome! If you are interested in, please contact me via e-mail at info [at]

Other English papers published

  1. Komori, M., & Nittono, H. (2013). Influence of age-independent facial traits on adult judgments of cuteness and infantility of a child’s face. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 97(6), 285-291. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.235 (November 2013)

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