Have you ever wanted to squeeze a puppy to death? Or drop kick a kitten because it was so cute? Or even seen Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown on Ellen? After recently going home for the first time this semester, I thought I was going to kill my dog. This made me wonder why cute things bring out the worst in you.
I found out that these crazy urges are due to a psychological thing called cute aggression. Cute aggression is defined as the urge to squeeze or scream over something that you think is overwhelmingly cute. This mix up of emotions is very similar to when someone cries tears of joy. For example, when a mother gives birth to a child she is so happy that she will start to cry. She is releasing all of her negative emotions with the positive at once. Similarly, when you see something extremely cute, you become aggressive. While reading an article on Popular Science, I read about a study done at Yale University that explains why we have these violent urges towards the things we love. Rebecca Dyer and her team hypothesized that getting aggressive is our body’s way of regulating our emotions. She believes that dimorphous expressions (two expressions at once) occur when people feel overwhelmed with intense feelings.
The team gathered a total of 109 volunteers to test their hypothesis. They showed them a slideshow of cute animals and babies and also neutral pictures to see what their reactions would be. They measured the strength of their reactions by asking them how aggressive they felt. After the scattered results of this first study, the researches felt that they weren’t thorough enough. They realized that the results were extremely limited because they were based on self report, so they decided to conduct the experiment again.
The second time around, they gave the participants bubble wrap. This time, when they looked at the pictures they could squeeze however much bubble wrap that they needed to. This gave Dyer and her team the ability to use an actual number to measure aggression. The results showed that the volunteers popped more bubbles when looking at the cuter pictures. The cute pictures averaged 120 bubbles while the neutral and funny pictures averaged 80 bubbles.
Dyer’s team concluded that their results supported their hypothesis. When faced with an extremely cute picture, it can fill your brain with so much emotion that the only way our body can regulate it is with a dimorphous expression. Since the participants showed higher levels of aggression towards the cuter pictures, it proves that a single stimulus (a very cute picture), can provoke two emotional responses at once (happiness and aggression). Dyer believes that one reason for this conclusion could be that when we see something cute, we then realize that it is only a picture, and get very frustrated that we cant cuddle or take care of it. Another explanation she mentions is that our bodies cannot handle that much positive emotion, so it needs to be negative in order to balance it out.
One downfall of this study that I personally noticed is that the experiment only used pictures. They didn’t actually use real dogs or real babies. Ultimately, you would think that if they did use real living things their results would be even more compelling and increase the aggression dramatically.
In the end it is nice to know that when I scream and squeeze my dog I am not mimicking actions of a young serial killer. It is actually quite normal to feel this way, and I can proudly diagnose myself as someone who suffers from cute aggression.