When you see a picture of an adorable animal do you have the urge to smoosh its face and cuddle it super hard? It turns out, that’s a totally normal response.
So it’s ok if you want to smother this puppy with kisses:
A phenomenon called “cute aggression” was first described by Yale researchers in 2015. It’s actually pretty common and includes expressing the desire to bite, squeeze, nibble, or snuggle (sometimes to death!) things we find too adorable for our brains to process.
Like this goat in a shirt!
Katherine Stavropoulos, an assistant professor of special education at the University of California, Riverside, and a licensed clinical psychologist, recently published a new study on the phenomenon that included monitoring the brain’s electrical activity when people viewed images of cute animals and human babies.
In her article “’It’s so Cute I Could Crush It!’: Understanding Neural Mechanisms of Cute Aggression,” published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, she found that in 54 participants ranging in age from 18–40 years, the brain’s neural reward system was activated upon seeing a photo of a cute animal or baby.
The research team used EEG caps to test brain activity while they showed subjects series of images of animals and babies with varying levels of cuteness. Traits such as such as big eyes and little noses are commonly found to be cuter to humans, so these traits were played up in some of the photos.
The results showed that the brain’s emotion and reward systems lit up when people experienced cuteness aggression.
Interestingly, participants had a stronger reaction to baby animals than to human baby photos.
Of course, this aggressive language does not translate into actual aggressive deeds, although 74% of respondent reported actually having squeezed a cute animal in the past.
It’s believed that expressing these feelings in such aggressive language prevents people from being totally overwhelmed and incapacitated by cute things. So, technically, it calms down your brain when you literally can’t even deal with the extreme cuteness of a tiny, fuzzy creature.
Researchers think this happens because your brain being overwhelmed by cuteness actually reduces your ability to actually take care of a tiny, cute, vulnerable thing.
While the phenomenon of “cuteness aggression” exists all over the world and across cultures, it doesn’t happen in every single person.
“It’s definitely not a universal experience, which I find fascinating. When I describe the phenomenon to people, I usually see that about 70 to 75 percent of people nod immediately and know exactly what I’m describing and have experienced it. The other 25 to 30 percent look at me strangely and have no clue what I’m talking about or why anyone would feel that.”
In the future, Stavropoulos says she plans to research whether being a parent or a pet owner might be correlated with cute aggression.
In the meantime, don’t worry too much about someone nibbling off your baby’s toes or cuddling your kitten to death. While one should always be careful around children, who can’t control their impulses very well, adults who express this aggressive language are actually coping normally with the cuteness and would probably make great baby or pet sitters, once they get over the emotional instability.
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