Kate’s Pregnant! Why We Care

It's not our baby, and they're not our neighbors. But we're still evolutionarily trained to care about the royal heir-to-be

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When news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy broke on Monday, a gasp of excitement went round the world. The hashtag #royalbaby took over Twitter, internet searches for “Kate Middleton pregnant” went up by 18,305% and Kate and William’s official website crashed. Congratulations flooded in from all corners, while newspapers took to speculating about everything from the baby’s name to Kate’s maternity wardrobe. It’s a fetus frenzy that is unlikely to abate for the next six months.

But while the fascination with the Duchess’ pregnancy is global in scale, even everyday mothers are familiar with the hullabaloo that comes with expecting a child. Strangers approach in the supermarket to lay a hand on your stomach and ask “When are you due?” Friends and grandparents-to-be spend hours discussing cribs and baby showers. Neighbors offer cooking help if you’re lucky and unsolicited advice if you’re not.

MORE: Why a Pregnant Kate Middleton Is In the Hospital

All of this raises the question: why is an impending birth so captivating? After all, it’s not exactly a rare occurrence — 252 babies are born around the world every minute. The answer, says Meredith Small, professor of anthropology at Cornell University and author of “Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent,” is embedded in our evolutionary past. “You know that saying, ‘It takes a village’? It’s actually really true,” she says. “Human infants are so dependent, they can’t sit up, they can’t eat on their own. How could that happen if there wasn’t at least one person, but usually more people, who are ready to do that kind of stuff?”

The rest is natural selection 101: being ready to do that “kind of stuff” improves the replication rate of an individual’s genes (more of their babies will survive and reproduce), meaning caring about babies is a trait that has become predominant. “Emotionally, psychologically, we are evolutionarily designed to respond to the look and feel of babies, and hearing about them,” says Small. “It’s so ingrained in our genes that it’s automatic.”

MORE: The Life of Kate and William’s Child, in 10 Easy Steps

Predictably, this trait is not confined to Homo sapiens. Primates have been cooing over infants since before we as a species were born. In her studies of Barbary macaques, for example, Small observed the monkeys going gaga over new arrivals. “When babies are born, everybody comes over and pays attention, and smells the baby and chatters in its face,” she says. Juvenile female apes and monkeys in particular are prone to curiosity about infants. “They always come up and try to touch and hold and grab.”

Baby excitement isn’t just a female thing, however. When it comes to macaques, says Small, “males carry the babies a lot.” And human males, though they may roll their eyes at the fuss being made over the royals’ offspring, are not immune to an infant’s charms. “I think men are just as excited and as responsive, and that culturally, they’re pushed to try and hide that,” she says.

MORE: Kate Middleton’s Baby: As the World Fusses, A London Neighborhood Shrugs

What about people who simply aren’t interested at all? Are they genetically faulty? Probably not. “That doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with them,” she says. Culture always plays a role; Western society in particular, with its focus on independence and self-reliance, gives more allowance for apathy. Still, for many, a famous fetus is hard to resist. Because they are celebrities, we feel we know Kate and William. And after 4 million years of sharing everything as hunter-gatherers, it’s simply our nature to nurture their child — even if that just means talking about it on Twitter.

86 comments
bunuel
bunuel

Sorry, but the media circus surrounding the British royal family should be a British sideshow, and should not receive the kind of fawning and groveling that we have seen in mainstream media. This is not news, and should not be presented as such. If US supermarket tabloids and the social pages wish to write about the royals of any country, as well as anyone else who is famous for being famous, that is their business. America is a republic, and not part of the British Commonwealth, so no American owes any allegiance to any foreign monarch, period. If, say, an Albanian-American feels nostalgic about King Zog, of course, that is his or her private business. But an institution like TIME should have higher news standards.

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

British king was once Americans king. Although American War of Independence freed America from Britain, the British Royal family has always remained a part of American family. Their joys and trials are shared by Americans because of historical attachment and nostalgia. So news about Kate is followed with eagerness and affection. 

jethromayham6
jethromayham6

We should care, No. It is U that cares. Or are you surprised that she wasn't pregnant much much earlier? This is tabloid crap.

Monica-chan Monica-chan
Monica-chan Monica-chan

Evidently I must be a freak of nature but I've no maternal instinct ingrained in my genes on the contrary I'm scared of pregnancies and I take pity on any girl who is pregnant especially those who have a gorgeous bod like Kate's which evidently must cost her a lot of effort! I consider myself a wanna be athlete and I'm scared of everything which could make me take a step backward. I read gossips about Kate delaying a pregnancy she didn't really want I think those were true she just had to unwillingly do that

Joepe Guy
Joepe Guy

So what if she's pregnant, the media is making it a big spectacle. I think people are interested to hear other things that matters in our lives.

Dorothy Chartrand
Dorothy Chartrand

I am shocked that there is so much media focus on this pregnancy!! Gawd!! Why is it all like ' Oh Kate is sick' & 'Could it be twins' Come on! What was she wearing today? And where are the photos??

Christine McAusland
Christine McAusland

Turkish authorities say Google is required to pay national taxes for revenue generated through its registered company based in Turkey, and asserts that an extensive audit shows that the American company owes the government nearly $50 million in unpaid taxes. = Again businesses are autocratic and I love Turkey, we're having a crown for Christmas dinner.

Jackson James
Jackson James

Dianne you should get drunk and take a bottle of sleeping pills.

Ceyhan A Caglar
Ceyhan A Caglar

Stupid British Citizens(Not all of them).The Royal family are exploiting them insidiously.They are still accept the monarchy system.If 3 world countries are accepting the monarchy system ,i don't said anything.But England,Sweden,Holland etc.. are EU countries and development countries,monarchy system don't befit them.Also Royal family mess the the world then throw the crime to U.S. and Jews.I love England but how How do I accept sneaky-exploitation?? I don't understand.In democracy system a citizen can be become a president or prime minister.They made a sumptuous wedding,they pass with aston martins,rolls royce but the british citizens were clapping them.Really interesting event.

Christine McAusland
Christine McAusland

In the UK this is our potential future King...or Queen. Since Governments are democratic and businesses autocratic it's good to have consistency and someone who really cares about their country over a period like 60 years.

Fernanda Moreira de Sousa
Fernanda Moreira de Sousa

we do not care... every woman and men together are able to realise such a natural act. No wonder, we definitely do not care...

Dianne C Castillo
Dianne C Castillo

Next time u wear atuxedo tell ur make up artist to put some fake tan in ur hands too because dont match with ur face color sometimes and if u are putting ur hand near ur face then ur face looks to over done with make up...just to help u bro! Bye zzzz.....

Ricky Ric
Ricky Ric

I c3rtainly car3 .. Twin_Man ! 3mpir3 will . . .

Karen Young
Karen Young

One more spoiled rotten brat in this world, that's all we need

Martha Guyer
Martha Guyer

Anyone who remembers Diana, will care...

Mus Mus
Mus Mus

Let me be blunt, Time. We don't.

Suraiya Mansoor
Suraiya Mansoor

Yeah just another statistic to the universe but we can be very happy for Kate and William - they evidence abundant purity, simplicity in Monarchy! Rejoice with them! ))

Yupie Dela Cruz
Yupie Dela Cruz

We've g0t L0ts of things t0 c0nsider n0t jUst her pregnancy!

Dianne C Castillo
Dianne C Castillo

The only way a baby can be real royalty its been Macho Macho Macho Macho...

Zack Millard
Zack Millard

Pretty sure the people don't care, just the media.