Science

There’s actually a scientific reason you sometimes want to bite that cute puppy (or kitten)

There's science behind us wanting to squeeze cute things!

Have you ever seen a puppy or a kitten that is so cute that you just want to squeeze them? Not out of malice, but just because you thought that they were painfully adorable.

Well, if you do, turns out you’re not alone.

Frontiers published a study by Katherine K.M.  Stavropoulos and Laura A. Alba titled  “It’s so Cute I Could Crush It!”: Understanding Neural Mechanisms of Cute Aggression,” which takes a look at cute aggression and whether it’s an actual thing.

They define cute aggression as “the urge some people get to squeeze, crush, or bite cute things, albeit without any desire to cause harm.”

In other words, cute aggression occurs when we get so overwhelmed by the adorableness of something that our brains don’t know how to handle it. Stavropoulos and Alba used electrophysiology to measure “components related to emotional salience and reward processing.”

They define cute aggression as 'the urge some people get to squeeze, crush, or bite cute things, albeit without any desire to cause harm.' Click To Tweet

Having a positive response to the cuteness of an animal, including human babies, is nothing new. 

A 2016 study conducted at the University of Oxford found that babies have “cute” characteristics, like having an infectious laugh and chubby cheeks, to “trigger our caregiving behaviors, which is vital because infants need our constant attention to survive and thrive.”  This study and similar ones helped lay some of the frameworks for this cute aggression study at the University of California, Riverside.

The study contained four blocks containing different images. 

These four blocks were more cute baby animals, less cute adult animals, more cute babies, and less cute babies. I guess it’s been already silently agreed upon that adult humans are not as cute as baby humans or animals, so there’s no need to test for that.

cat face GIF by Cheezburger
Image Description: hands squishing the face of a cat via Giphy.com

In order to try and make a distinguishable difference between “cute” and “less cute” babies, the researcher modified the human babies’ faces via Photoshop “to either enhance ‘cute’ features (e.g., larger eyes, fuller cheeks) or to minimize those features.” Following viewing the four blocks of images, the researchers “asked participants to rate how much they agreed with statements expressing: cute aggression, feeling overwhelmed, the desire to approach, and appraisal of cuteness” in a questionnaire.

The study found that participants had higher rates of cute aggression when they looked at baby animals in comparison to adult animals. Click To Tweet

Between the results from the electrophysiology and the questionnaire, Stavropoulos and Alba were able to conclude that participants in their study do experience “cute aggression” when they find something to be particularly adorable.

The study found that participants had higher rates of “cute aggression” when they looked at baby animals in comparison to adult animals. Interestingly,  participants experienced similar levels of cute aggression when they viewed cute babies and less cute babies.

While this was not tested, it would be interesting to see if participants would experience similar levels of cute aggression when shown “cute” baby animals and “less cute” baby animals.

This study, in the grand scheme of research going on in the world, isn’t the most groundbreaking, but it gives an interesting look at the human psyche.

Now, excuse me while I spend the next hour scrolling through photos of golden retriever puppies and thinking about how much I would like to squeeze their cheeks.

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