It’s So Cute I Could Kill It!


Earth and World

Cute animals have an odd effect on us.

Madeeha Akhtar, Columnist

Have you ever seen an animal so cute you just want to pick it up and squeeze it till its eyeballs pop out? Congratulations, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to be overwhelmed by a desire to squeeze, hug, and even bite cute things.

This feeling is called cuteness aggression. Katherine Stavropoulos, a psychologist in the Graduate School of Education, said, “When people feel this way, it’s with no desire to cause harm.” The feeling is an involuntary response to a wave of positive emotions that we can get by just looking at a picture of sleeping kittens.

Our brain makes us feel this way for a good reason. According to Smithsonian, scientists say that aggression is the brain’s way of coping with cuteness. By adding in small hints of aggression, our brain is able to focus. If a mother is too distracted by her baby’s adorableness, so much that she can’t focus enough to take care of it, the baby will die. Our brain can get us to control all of the positive emotions we get by giving us negative ones, NPR explained. 

Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience conducted an experiment. 54 participants, ranging in ages between 18 and 40, were shown four different types of photos: Adult animals, baby animals, babies altered to look cuter (e.g., larger eyes, fuller cheeks), and babies with cuteness features reduced. All of the participants were fitted with EEG caps that used electrodes to measure brain activity. After they looked at the photos, they were given questionnaires that measured how cute they found the photos and how much cuteness aggression they were feeling. They all agreed with statements like, “I want to squeeze something!” and “I feel like pinching those cheeks!” The participants also said that they wanted to care for the subjects of the photos.

Not all photos gave off the same behavior, though. The images of the baby animals gave off the strongest response while the adult animals had the weakest response. Both of the baby photos gave off the same response, surprisingly. Even though one set of baby photos was altered to look less appealing, the researchers agreed that both sets of baby photos “were objectively pretty cute!”

The EEG caps were able to capture the brain’s neural activity response to cuteness aggression. The was greater activity in the brain’s emotional systems and reward systems. Smithsonian says that that regulates motivation, pleasure, and the feeling of “wanting.” So don’t worry if you really feel like hugging your pets tightly or get a sudden urge to pinch a baby’s cheeks. That’s just your brain’s way of making sure that nothing is too cute to handle!