Ever feel an overwhelming urge to squeeze, pinch, shake, bite or scream at somethings you found to be unreasonably cute? Sounds horrible when you say it out loud, but most people have. Some languages even have a word for it. In 2015, these Yale PhDs went ahead and labeled it “cute aggression.”
When we’re confronted with something that conforms to Konrad Lorenz’s kindchenschema, the literal scientific definition of adorableness, we lose it. Features such as a large head; oversized, round eyes and cheeks; a small nose and mouth; a flat face; and a round, soft body elicit an automatic caretaking response and strong, sometimes overwhelming, positive emotion.
When we experience intense emotions, whether positive or negative, we can reach a point where we feel our emotions have become unmanageable and overwhelming. We attempt to regulate our runaway emotions by expressing an opposite one. This is very common. People cry at weddings, smile through tears, laugh when they’re afraid, scream when they’re happy. They may or may not feel the opposing emotion, but just physically expressing it seems to downregulate the overwhelming one.
Cute aggression is apparently a way for us to get a grip on ourselves when we’re so carried away by positive emotion in response to cuteness that it gets in the way of our caretaking abilities. You’re no good to your baby if his butterball cheeks and lilting coos captivate you to the point of paralysis. Experiencing a rush of aggression, and acting on it by playfully growling, squeezing, roughhousing, or just tensing up and yelling (my own guilty pleasure), is apparently a way to tone down the extreme joy of being in the presence of profound cuteness so you can function.
Next time you see a young puppy, tiny kitten, or precious baby and you are actively restraining yourself from crushing or consuming it, know that you’re perfectly normal. And if you’re not, that’s pretty normal, too.