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

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‘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.

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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 first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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