You know that feeling you experience when you’re confronted with so much cuteness (say, in the form of puppies or babies) that you just want to aggressively squeeze the source of said cuteness overload? Well, there’s actually a scientific term for that very feeling, so you can blame science for your aggression.
Katherine Stavropoulos, a psychologist in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, published a study about “cute aggression” this month in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, explaining the neurological mechanisms behind that feeling. In an interview with NPR, she said, “When people feel this way, it’s with no desire to cause harm.”
The feeling is quite the contrary, as those sentiments of “I just want to crush it!” or “I just want to squeeze it!” stem simply from feeling overwhelmed by such positive emotions. Aw. That’s so cute. Don’t you just want to squeeze the sentiment to death?
Since Stavropoulos was curious about what cute aggression (a concept first explored by researchers at Yale University in 2014) looked like in the brain, she and a colleague examined the brain activity of 54 young adults. Participants looked at a series of images (all altered to look either super cute or not so cute), and were found to exhibit greater brain activity when viewing the cuter images. In terms of just what qualified as adorable, Stavropoulos chose images that displayed “big cheeks, big eyes, small noses—all these features we associate with cuteness.” So, picture the 1942 Disney animated film Bambi.
Stavropoulos’ study found that more activity arose in participants’ “brain’s reward system” when confronted with cuteness, explaining:
Therefore, this blend of neurological activity can be overwhelming and contribute to aggressive feelings.
So if you, too, spent much of the holiday season thinking about aggressively squeezing the little cheeks of your nieces and nephews, take solace in the fact that it was all in the name of science.