Take a deep breath… in through the nose and out through the mouth. Sit down, prepare yourself. The first step is admitting that you have a problem – a very cute problem.
You’re not alone, when something is so totes adorable, we all get the urge to squeeze it and squish it. This reaction to overwhelming cuteness is called, ‘cute aggression.’ It is where you just have this flash of thinking, ‘I want to squeeze it until pops.’
Those who have extremely positive reactions to images of cuteness also displayed stronger aggressive expressions, such as wanting to pinch and squeeze.
So, what explains our impulse to squeeze or nibble or crush or bite unquenchable adorableness? Well, cuteness often elicits a reaction that appears aggressive, such as clenched fists, barred teeth, and growling.
Our initial reaction may be tears of joy, nervous laughter, or cuddling something the unbearable cutie. If it is just too damn cute, then our secondary reaction is to hurt it – even if you’d normally protect it.
This serves to scramble and temper the initial overwhelming emotion, thus bringing us back into balance.
Studies have shown that people who had such positive and negative concurrent reactions regained their emotional equilibrium more quickly. This is important when you’re caring for something adorable.
Come on, we’ve all once uttered, “You’re so cute, I could eat you up!” We’re not actually going to do this, we are just expressing the aggression. This is called, ‘dimorphous expression.’ It is when you express something different than what you’re feeling, such as crying when you’re happy, or laughing when you’re nervous.
Dimorphous expression is also behind another common reaction to cuteness. The expression of sadness even though happy, which involves the sound, ‘awww,’ and an exaggerated frown. So, when you encounter something unbelievable cute, you’re filled with positive feelings, but they can come out looking like aggression or sadness.
Looking at cute images also makes us more attentive to detail, due to the positive feelings created. This triggers a strong ‘approach motivation,’ which is the desire for a good outcome. There is no desire to cause harm. Any aggression is an involuntary response to being overwhelmed by a positive emotion.
Cute aggression is often baffling and embarrassing to the people who experience it. It’s a conundrum; the cuter something is, the more you want to (involuntarily) hurt it.
Studies show that seeing cuter creatures produces greater activity in brain areas involved in emotion. The more cute aggression a person felt, the more activity there is in the brain’s reward system. Our brains make us enjoy looking at cute things by rewarding us with dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel intensely happy. This suggests that people who think about squishing puppies appear to be driven by two powerful forces in the brain; emotion and reward. The combination can be overwhelming, and this may be why the brain starts producing aggressive thoughts. The production of negative emotions helps people get control of the positive ones that are running amok, like a chubby piglet wearing wellies trotting about in a candy store.
Adorable features that we just can’t resist include, big head relative to body size, larger forehead, large eyes, round cheeks, small chin, and small nose. We see these features and our brains want to give cute things extra attention over non-cute things.
The cute aggression reaction is also heavily linked to feeling a caretaking urge towards the cute thing. So, next time you want to nomnom on chubby cheeks, cry at a wedding, laugh inappropriately, or squish a floof, know that it’s normal to deal with strong emotions in this way.
Now, go have a nice cuppa and pop some bubble wrap to calm down xoxo
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