The other day, I heard someone say, “OMG, that puppy is so cute I could just squeeze it to death.” On one hand, this is a really messed up sentiment. Why would you want to squeeze a cute puppy to death? On the other hand, I can relate because sometimes I also want to smush really cute things (or, weirdly, eat them).
The desire to squeeze, crush or pinch a cute object without wanting to cause it harm is a common phenomenon called “cute aggression.” It is relatively common, as about half of adults have this sort of reaction to extreme cuteness, according to a 2018 study.
The lead researcher of the 2018 study told NPR, that people who are cute aggressors may think, “this is weird; I’m probably the only one who feels this way. I don’t want to hurt it. I just want to eat it.” It is weird. Why do some of us feel this way?
The researchers in the 2018 study scanned 54 volunteers’ brains as they were shown images of animals that varied in cuteness. They found that images of extremely cute animals triggered activity in the brain’s emotional and reward systems. The researchers hypothesize that the urge to squeeze or pinch a cute object is our brain’s way of dealing with the overload of the combination of the emotional and reward systems in our brains. Cute aggression may be the way the brain tempers the positive feelings cuteness elicits; the dose of aggressiveness counteracts the overwhelming positive feelings and allows us to re-regulate ourselves. From the study: “Cute aggression appears to be a complex and multi-faceted emotional response that likely serves to mediate strong emotional responses and allow caretaking to occur.”
So, the next time you see a really cute baby and weirdly want to pinch it, don’t worry. You don’t really want to harm it. Your brain is just opening a release valve to let the overwhelmingly positive feelings the cuteness caused drain out.