Look at this puppy’s face.
Don’t you want to squeeze it?
There’s a reason for that – and for why you might experience similar urges when you see a cat, a bunny, or a baby.
It’s a phenomenon called cute aggression, and a new study looks at why it happens.
Katherine Stavropoulos, a psychologist from the University of California, Riverside, analysed the neural activity of 54 participants between the ages of 18 and 40 while they looked at four blocks of 32 photographs divided into categories: cute babies, less cute babies, cute baby animals, and less cute adult animals.
After viewing the photos on a computer screen, participants were asked to rate how much they agreed with a set of statements on a scale of one to ten.
The survey looked at how cute participants found the photographs, and the level of cute aggression they experienced in response.
Participants were more likely to feel cute aggression towards cute baby animals than less cute animals. They also felt more overwhelmed and wanted to take care of the baby animals more.
While the participants were answering the survey, researchers used electrophysiology to measure brain activity.
Stavropoulos said: ‘There was an especially strong correlation between ratings of cute aggression experienced toward cute animals and the reward response in the brain toward cute animals.
‘This is an exciting finding, as it confirms our original hypothesis that the reward system is involved in people’s experiences of cute aggression.
‘Essentially, for people who tend to experience the feeling of “not being able to take how cute something is”, cute aggression happens.
‘Our study seems to underscore the idea that cute aggression is the brain’s way of “bringing us back down” by mediating our feelings of being overwhelmed.’
So essentially, if something is so cute that we can’t handle it, our brain gives us an urge to squeeze it or squish it to combat their cuteness and calm down to a point that we can carry on with our lives.
‘For example, if you find yourself incapacitated by how cute a baby is — so much so that you simply can’t take care of it – that baby is going to starve,’ Stavropoulos said.
‘Cute aggression may serve as a tempering mechanism that allows us to function and actually take care of something we might first perceive as overwhelmingly cute.’
In short: cute aggression is a thing, it’s normal, and it’s actually healthy. Don’t feel weird about wanting to squeeze that puppy.