It started when I was a child with my pet parakeet. I wanted to squeeze him. He was so cute, and warm and soft. I didn’t squeeze, probably because he wouldn’t let me. The impulse to squeeze subsided because my next pet was a turtle, which was not squeezable. But my Cute Aggression had been unleashed and the urge returned with every mammal, human or otherwise. (Cold blooded animals and insects unleash my aggression too but it is not cute.)
“Being Cute has it’s drawbacks .. .”
Cute aggression was first described in 2015 by researchers at Yale University. Researchers wanted to know what it looked like in the brain and recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 young adults as they looked at images of animals and people.
The images included both grown-ups and babies. Some had been manipulated to look less appealing. Others were made extra adorable, meaning “big cheeks, big eyes, small noses — all features we associate with cuteness.
The study found that for the entire group of participants, cuter creatures were associated with greater activity in brain areas involved in emotion. But the more cute aggression a person felt, the more activity the scientists saw in the brain’s reward system.
That suggests people who think about squishing puppies appear to be driven by two powerful forces in the brain: Both emotional and reward systems in the brain are involved in this experience of cute aggression.”
The combination can be overwhelming. And scientists suspect that’s why the brain starts producing aggressive thoughts. The idea is that the appearance of these negative emotions helps people get control of the positive ones running amok.
“It could possibly be that somehow these expressions help us to just sort of get it out and come down off that baby high a little faster,” says Oriana Aragón, an assistant professor at Clemson University who was part of the Yale team that gave cute aggression its name.
Aggressive thoughts in response to adorable creatures are just one example of “dimorphous expressions of positive emotion,” Aragón says.
“So people who, you know, want to pinch the babies cheeks and growl at the baby are also people who are more likely to cry at the wedding or cry when the baby’s born or have nervous laughter,” she says.
I’m sooo relieved to know I have dimorphous expressions of positive emotion, sounds much less aggressive.