‘I Wanna Eat You Up!’ Why Cute Things Make Us A Little Bit Violent [Study]

Ever had your cheek squeezed withing an inch of its life by Great Aunt Ruth? Ever seen a puppy and said something along the lines of, “I want to gobble it up!” When my husband is in particular awe at something adorable one of our sons has said or done, it generally ends up with his tackling them to the floor and tickling them until they turn pink and pee their pants.

Turns out, there is a scientific connection between cute things and aggression. New research shows that the cuter we think something is, the more violent tendencies we feel. The aggression seems strange, and it’s not like we see a basket of roly poly kittens and actually hurt the little critters. It’s just too much cuteness for our brains to handle. And that’s apparently completely normal.

In the recent study, presented on January 18 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Behavior, researchers founds that people watching a slideshow of adorable pictures popped more bubbles on a sheet of bubble wrap than did people viewing funny or neutral pictures.

“We think it’s about high positive-affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control,” said study researcher Rebecca Dyer, a graduate student in psychology at Yale University. “You know, you can’t stand it, you can’t handle it, that kind of thing.”

Dyer and her colleagues call the study “cute aggression,” and became interested in the idea after chatting with other students about how adorable internet pictures often cause the viewer to want to squeeze something. All the existing research suggests that the reaction cuteness should be gentle and careful, not bubble-popping aggressive.

“We don’t have a bunch of budding sociopaths in our studies that you have to worry about,” she said, noting that people don’t actually want to hurt cute things.

Dyer and and her co-author, fellow Yale student Oriana Aragon, first ran an experiment to see if cuteness aggression was a real phenomenon. Sure enough, the cuter the animal, the less control the participants had while viewing pictures. Participants rated the pictures of neutral, cute, or super cute animals based on comments like “I can’t handle it!” and “I want to squeeze something.”

To test the participants physical response — not just verbal assessment — researchers then wrapped participants in bubble wrap, and subjected them to the same montage of cute, funny, and neutral pictures. The people watching a cute slideshow popped 120 bubbles on average. Those watching the funny slideshow only popped 80, while those watching the neutral slideshow popped 100.

While researchers aren’t sure what causes the aggression, Dyer notes that many overwhelmingly positive emotions come out looking a bit negative, such as Miss America balling her eyes out when she’s crowned.

“It might be that how we deal with high positive-emotion is to sort of give it a negative pitch somehow, Dyer said. “That sort of regulates, keeps us level and releases that energy.”

Do super cute animals and babies make you want to hurt something…just a little?

[Image from Shutterstock]