Posted by: Jess Riley | October 14, 2008

Theme Week Gnomes: Pedomorphosis and Cuteness

First of all, my internet died for a few days, so unfortunately I was not able to get online for a little while. My most sincere apologies for this!

Secondly, I’d like to give you some background on this post. Since well before I wrote here at Blogatelle, I’ve had this theory about the manner in which gnomes are treated by other races, based on “this theory I read about cute things”. Well, when it came time to do gnome theme week, it was suggested that I write about this theory of mine. Unfortunately, I felt it would be inappropriate to post here about “this theory I read about cute things”, but for the life of me I could not remember the actual name of the theory. In part, this is the reason it took me so long to update – I wanted to make sure I was talking about the right thing.

But, here goes: in 1949, Konrad Lorenz proposed that infantile features trigger nurturing responses in adults, an evolutionary adaption to ensure that parents cared for their young. As evidence, it was observed that adults react more positively to animals that exhibit pedomorphosis – the retention of infantile or child-like traits in adults. Pedomorphism is characterised by such traits as large heads, large eyes, shortened noses, etc.

Now, let’s take a look at a standard gnome – my new alt for the Katafray Project, Eme.

While it doesn’t seem at a glance to be an exaggerated effect, she does have a rather large head for her body size (taking up about a quarter to a third of her total size, as compared to sixth to seventh of a Night Elf, or the fifth to sixth of a draenei). her eyes are also quite large and wide, while her nose is very small (this latter point is less exaggerated again; most races have very small, dainty noses).

Why am I talking about this? Well, this indicates that gnomes are pedomorphic – they retain ‘child-like’ proportions well into adulthood. If humans, elves, draenei and possibly even dwarves have this nurturing response to things that look like children, this indicates that frequently, they would feel nurturing towards gnomes.

This isn’t just a matter of, “Keep in mind, your character will want to act nurturingly towards a gnome’. This goes further than that. Those of you who are constantly being mistaken for younger than you really are might understand how it feels to be nurtured and taken care of – or, as it usually turns out in practice, being condescended to or patronized – by people other than your immediate family. Even by your family, it becomes old after a while.

Imagine a 250 year old – still perfectly within the age range of a gnome – senior engineer, who is giving a speech to a group of humans about fluid engineering. Now imagine that group responding as though it were a small child giving the speech. Although in the vast majority of cases this won’t even approach a conscious level of action, the gnome is bound to pick up on it, and they probably won’t like what they’re seeing.

This is less about humans consciously acting like the people they’re talking to are children, as it is about humans letting their actions be informed by the fact that they have nurturing or caregiver-like feelings for something that looks, to them, rather child-like. It will happen to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the people in question, but it almost certainly will happen (or would happen, if Lorenz’s theory is both true and applies in the Warcraft universe) – and the gnomes probably don’t like it all that much.

For all that they have a reputation for being nice, carefree people, I really do wonder how much of this is borne from the perception of gnomes as being child-like and innocent, and how much is genuinely traits of the people. I’m certain, however, that the perception of the gnomes is coloured by this theory of nurturing, to greater or lesser extent.

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Responses

  1. Konrad Lorenz’s theory has a different take as well that has been made popular in a book called “Beyond the Human Condition” which actually claims that pedomorphosis triggers nurturing behaviour in females and destructive behaviour in males. Whatever, getting back to your post I think it is also important to remember that if a “child” was to give a speech on fluid dynamics, it could be perceived as savant and amazing. This could lead to deity type appraisal of the child or demonic/possession type fear – depending on your own characterisation. I personally love evil Gnomes because you just don’t expect it as much.

  2. I was going to go into more detail than that, but I decided against it as I didn’t really feel it was relevant.

    Additionally, in my experience, there’s three different responses – my goodness, you’re a savant, you’re so amazing, my goodness, you’re a savant, you must be devil-possessed, or oh, how cute, I tuned all that out, but gee, you sounded so smart for a kid.

    It’s the third I was talking about, but the other two have excellent RP prospects, too. Especially when you consider the tendency of parents with gifted children to show off their gifted tendencies to others, in essence treating their intellect like a trick they can perform at will.

  3. I have two very dear friends who play a human rogue and a warlock. When I rolled my little gnome warlock, we had some superb role-playing times, especially doing some of the class-specific warlock quests. My gnome, Polth, was desperate for the world to take her as seriously as an imposing, evil, unhinged, power-hungry warlock as her human colleague. While the sheer power of her spells had convinced the warlock, the rogue remained skeptical and often invited the public-at-large to share in his riducle of the adorable little warlock.

  4. That’s such a classic oriniwen, I love it!

  5. “Those of you who are constantly being mistaken for younger than you really are might understand how it feels to be nurtured and taken care of – or, as it usually turns out in practice, being condescended to or patronized – by people other than your immediate family. Even by your family, it becomes old after a while.”

    Ya, I would fall under that category. I am 24 and still look in my late teens, the fact I have a smaller frame, just sets in stone that people will often think I am younger than I actually am. As for how it feels, I think the most prevalent thing people will think of you, is that they won’t expect much out of you just as they would not expect much out of a young person. And while, this can be looked to as a negative, at the same time the plus side is that when you do something great, they are very surprised and perhaps treat you a touch better than if someone else did the same thing, but did not look so much younger.

    And as David touched on in comments, people don’t expect much out of gnomes. So if one totally dominates a fight, or is a sadistic egomaniac or whatever. The normal effect people have on a situation is increased a notch or two. Therefore in effect, a gnome is treated with high’s and lows, that other race’s who are more on the average side don’t feel. And I think as long as they get more highs, than lows, I doubt a gnome be too pissed off especially when there too busy figuring stuff out usually to care anyways.

    “Imagine a 250 year old – still perfectly within the age range of a gnome – senior engineer, who is giving a speech to a group of humans about fluid engineering. Now imagine that group responding as though it were a small child giving the speech. Although in the vast majority of cases this won’t even approach a conscious level of action, the gnome is bound to pick up on it, and they probably won’t like what they’re seeing.”

    I think, when someone is unfamiliar with gnomes, they will have that initial reaction of what you said, even if its on a unconscious level. But once experiencing their genius, wisdom and the fantastic devices they have made. People be hard pressed to not take them seriously, especially if they were on the wrong end of their technology like the Horde was. But of course, then their be the weirder, playful and childish gnomes that people may come across that cement their idea of them.

    In the end, I think how people feel about them is on a case by case basis. As those close to them like the dwarves, I doubt ever treat them badly because of their appearance and even manor in which they act. And races who have been hurt by their technology, while they publicly discriminate against them I am sure, in the back of their minds would respect, if not fear them.

    “For all that they have a reputation for being nice, carefree people, I really do wonder how much of this is borne from the perception of gnomes as being child-like and innocent, and how much is genuinely traits of the people. I’m certain, however, that the perception of the gnomes is coloured by this theory of nurturing, to greater or lesser extent.”

    Good point. Something related to that is how people will become their name for instance, or become stereotypical of their race or religion. Begging the question, are they like that naturally or was the perception of them being like that, what made them who they are. And unfortunately, the question can never be answered really.

    …………

    Ultimately I say, the saying, “big things come in small packages,” definitely define who the gnomes are. And by that, you should never underestimate the clever minds they have behind those simply adorable faces.


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