58: Cuteness Aggression

58: Cuteness Aggression

Brain Junk
58: Cuteness Aggression

Why do we want to crush-hug cute things like babies and young animals? It may have something to do with adorableness overload and how our brains compensate to get things done.


Cuteness Aggression Transcript:

Welcome to Brain Junk, I’m Amy Barton, and I’m Trace Kerr, and this is a Brain Storm.


TK: Amy, have you ever been around a cute puppy, or a baby and you find yourself wanting to chew on their feet or pinch their cheeks really hard?

AB: You really squeeze them! Hug them so tight!

TK: You really squeeze them so tight! Yeah that feeling of being overwhelmed by adorableness which is giving you the desire to squeeze or bite cute things without causing harm – that’s cuteness aggression.

AB: It is? It has a name. OK, that girl from Despicable Me with the unicorn.

TK: Yes. It’s so fluffly! And she’s squeezing it. Well, there’s this really great paper, it’s called “It’s so cute I could crush it. Understanding neural mechanisms in cuteness aggression” by Katherine K.N. Stephropolis and Laura  A. Alba. They were studying 54 test subjects. They show them, and I love this, “cute” and “less cute” babies and animals. So they had pictures of babies and they would make their eyes bigger and this kind of thing, so the’re cute and less cute. It’s like ‘you’re baby isn’t ugly enough for this study’. And then animals, they used elephants, ducks, pigs, cats monkeys, dogs and rabbits and they had like baby animals, and then grown up jaded animals out behind the gym.

AB: The two packs a day animals.

TK: Yup, yup. And they found that the cuter babies and animals elicited more brain response. And for about half of all adults, they often have reactions like ‘I want to pinch those cheeks’ or ‘I want to squeeze it’ or they say ‘I want to eat you up’ or ‘I don’t want to hurt it, I just want to eat it’. I myself have, ok so I have three cats, and one of them is really laid back and, you know cats have their ears that are really soft and fluffy, and if he curls up right in my face, I have, on occasion, found myself using my lips to go nib, nib, nib on his ears. It’s really weird. I’ll even do it and think ‘this is kind of strange’, but that’s that sort of cuteness aggression. And what they wanted to know was why do we do that? Why is that the more cute we seem to think a thing is, the more activity there is in the brain’s reward system?

AB: Why is the response ‘I want to squeeze you so hard’? Because that’s not a protection response?

TK: It’s not. Results indicate that feelings of cuteness aggression relate to feeling overwhelmed by emotion and the feeling of caretaking. The researchers think that possibly we evolve this way. So you have to take care of a baby, and the baby is super cute. You don’t have time to be gooey about it. You’ve got work to do, diapers to change, food to make, that sort of thing. Cute aggression helps blunt the gooey feeling so we can get our work done.

  1. Wow! It shoots you right past-I’ve had arguments with the kids where I’m like ‘this is going to be a three hour argument. Unless I cut right to the definitive statement that’s going to shoot them right over the top. I think that’s sort of your body doing the same thing. We’re going to stop this three hour cuddle fest, I’m going to shoot right over the top so we can get on with the day.

TK: Yup. We have a couple toe nibbles and I can move on.

AB: OK. That makes sense to me.

TK: That’s the theory. So the next time you feel the need to squeeze something REALLY hard because it’s so cute-that’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with you. And that is a Brain Storm.

AB: want to hear more? We’re on Facebook and Instagram as BrainJunkPodcast,  and you can find us on Twitter as @MyBrainJunk. Trace and I will catch you next time with more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored. I feel like we should go pet the cats now.

TK: Yay!


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