The two-layer model of ‘kawaii’: A behavioural science framework for understanding kawaii and cuteness | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2051-7084
  • E-ISSN: 2051-7092



‘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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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): baby schema; cognition; culture; cuteness; emotion; psychology
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