Under the Hood

Why We Have The Urge To Squeeze Cute Things

Have you ever wondered why some people want to pinch the cheeks of babies and children? Or why some have a strong urge to squeeze or squish small puppies? 

This aggressive response to something we find cute — dubbed "cute aggression" by scientific researchers — is not a sign that there is something wrong with you. Not even if you have said things like "It's so fluffy, I'm gonna die!" upon seeing a stuffed unicorn toy.

Back in 2013, an experiment at Yale University found that people popped bubble wrap a lot more when looking at pictures of baby animals compared to when they were looking at funny or neutral images. So this feeling of frustration over mere "cuteness" is not really uncommon. In fact, your brain is wired to have this kind of response. 

"This relationship between brain activity and cute aggression seems to be influenced by how overwhelmed you feel," Katherine Stavropoulos of the University of California, Riverside told Gizmodo.

Stavropoulos was among the researchers who led a new study on the phenomenon, suggesting that cute aggression involved both the emotion and the reward systems. The findings were published last week in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

It seems that the aggression you experience actually helps you cope with your inability to handle all that cuteness. In a way, this is comparable to other scenarios that induce the "opposite" reaction in some of us. Think, laughing at a funeral or crying when confronted with good news.

"What's happening is that your brain is giving you an injection of an opposite emotion to bring you back from the brink of being so overwhelmed by the initial (and appropriate) emotion," Leigh Campbell explained, writing for the Huffington Post in 2017.

But if you happen to be reading this article and feeling extremely confused — that's okay too! Though many of us experience it, not everyone can relate to the urge of needing to bite and squish baby kittens (without acting on said urges, of course). 

Stavropoulos noted this response is not universal, estimating that 70 to 75 percent of the people she has spoken to reported experiencing cute aggression.

"The other 25 to 30 percent look at me strangely and have no clue what I’m talking about or why anyone would feel that," she told Inverse.

While the aggression is a coping mechanism, there is also a theory that it serves a larger purpose. The response helps regulate the strong emotions we feel when we look at baby humans or baby animals.

As Stavropoulos puts it, this helps us regain our composure and focus on taking care of the young creature. In other words, we slip into the role of "caretaker" instead of just standing there and feeling overwhelmed.