You Probably Suffer from “Cute Aggression”

It’s when you just want to squeeze the heck out of something adorably cute.  We all seem to suffer from this condition at some level of intensity.  It happens when we see a really really cute animal or infant we just can’t seem to control ourselves.  Actually, it’s probably more likely the inability to control our positive emotions.

“We think it’s about high positive-affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control,” researcher Rebecca Dyer told Live Science. “You know, you can’t stand it, you can’t handle it, that kind of thing.”

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It’s like seeing an adorable baby and you blurt out ‘I wanna eat you up’ or ‘let me pinch those chubby cheeks’ but with an aggressive tone and gesture.   Dyer was at Yale University graduate school when she first noticed a condition she coined as “Cute Aggression.”  And it’s good to know that this emotional reaction is really the norm when looking at excruciatingly cute images.

Dyer, who is now a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Colgate University, wanted to test her physical “Cute Aggression” theory out so she and her colleagues decided to pull in 90 study participants using bubble wrap.  Dyer jokingly mentioned that it’s not like people actually want to hurt these cute animals.

Dyer said, “it’s not as though people really want to hurt a basketful of kittens when they see the furballs tumbling all over one another.”

“We don’t have a bunch of budding sociopaths in our studies that you have to worry about,” she said.

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But before the bubble wrap experiment, the colleagues had 109 participants rate online pictures of cute, funny, and neutral animals.  The participants rated the online pictures on how cute or funny it was to them.  And also how much the photos made them feel out of control and if they agreed with statements like “I can’t handle it!” or  “want to say something like ‘grr!'” and “want to squeeze something.”

The result of the test was that the cuter the animal the more the participants felt out of control and wanted to squeeze something.  Then Dyer and her colleagues tested the ‘squeezing’  theory by using bubble wrap on 90 participants both male and female.

The people watching a cute slideshow popped 120 bubbles, on average, compared with 80 for the funny slideshow and just a hair over 100 for the neutral one.

Although the reason for this “Cute Aggression” is not clear the team had three thoughts as to why it was so prevalent. The first theory is that when confronted with a cute image we want to take care of the cute animal or child but can not so we get frustrated and we become aggressive.  The second theory is people are trying so hard not to hurt the animal that the opposite effect occurs.  And Thirdly, seeing an extremely cute picture causes overwhelming positive emotions that we can’t handle it.

“It might be that how we deal with high positive-emotion is to sort of give it a negative pitch somehow, Dyer said. “That sort of regulates, keeps us level and releases that energy.”

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