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Open Access The two-layer model of ‘kawaii’: A behavioural science framework for understanding kawaii and cuteness

‘Kawaii’ is one of the most popular words in contemporary Japan and is recognized as representative of Japanese pop culture. It is often translated into English as ‘cute’, but a subtle difference of nuance seems to exist between the two words. In this article, a framework for research on kawaii from a behavioural science perspective is put forward. After introducing the dictionary definition, history and current usage of kawaii, this article reports survey results of Japanese students and office workers about their attitudes towards kawaii. These findings and past psychological and behavioural science research lead to a two-layer model that consists of kawaii as an emotion and kawaii as a social value. This model postulates that the basis of kawaii is a positive emotion related to the social motivation of watching for and staying with preferable persons and objects, which is typically observed in affection towards babies and infants, but not limited to them. This culturally non-specific, biological trait has been appreciated and fostered in Japan by certain characteristics of Japanese culture. 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.

Keywords: baby schema; cognition; culture; cuteness; emotion; psychology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Osaka University

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the leading academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers and students from around the world interested in the popular culture of East Asia. In recent decades, East Asian popular culture has attracted increasing attention within academia and beyond. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is one manifestation of this, serving as an important forum for academic debate over popular cultural phenomena throughout the region and their social and political ramifications. The journal's scope embraces all aspects of popular culture in East Asia as well as the cultural interplay between East Asia and the wider world. Encompassing work on genres from film to music, art to translation and fashion to tourism; the journal offers a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways. We welcome original scholarship related to all aspects of East Asian popular culture from creation to dissemination and beyond. We also offer a space for shorter reviews or reports of cultural events and activities, and for reviews of scholarship in any language related to East Asian popular culture.
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