Cute Aggression: Why It's Normal To Want To Bite Adorable Things

by Sarah Hockel

How many times have you heard people scream, “It’s so cute! I want to eat it!” while gazing at a cute puppy or an adorable newborn? How many times have you said that?

Let’s face it: When we see something adorable, we can’t help but want to squeeze or bite it. Does that mean that you’re going loony?

Don't worry because the answer is no! Recent studies have shown it is completely normal for us to feel these aggressive urges in response to seeing something cute. It’s called cute aggression.

“Cute” and “Aggression” Paired Together?

At Yale University, two graduate psychology students, Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer, were particularly interested in this topic. Because of their sparked interest, they decided to conduct a few studies.

The first study consisted of 109 participants. They were required to participate online by browsing through categories of funny, neutral and cute animal pictures.

There are differences between these attitudes: Funny pictures include silliness, like a puppy falling when attempting to catch a tennis ball.

Neutral pictures would present older dogs with more relaxed looks. Cute pictures would emphasize their big “puppy eyes.”

To determine the results, the participants had to rate each picture on the level of cuteness and even the level of loss of control the picture made them feel.

To rate the loss of control level, participants had to choose statements like “I want to squeeze it” or “I can’t handle it.”

Once the online study was completed, the results showed that although all of the pictures were enjoyed, the pictures that were labeled as “cute” had the highest reactions of loss of control.

This depicted how cuteness overload can cause verbal aggression, but what about physical aggression?

I’m sure you've pinched the cheeks of an adorable newborn and had to stop yourself before the baby had enough. Aragon and Dyer conducted a second study to look further into it.

The second study was held face-to-face. There were 90 participants, both men and women.

The participants viewed similar pictures from the last study, however, they were required to hold bubble wrap.

The psychologists found when people viewed the funny pictures, an average of 80 bubbles were popped. The neutral pictures resulted in an average of 100 pops.

The cute pictures triggered the participants to pop an average of 120 bubbles. There is a noticeable trend here.

What does this mean? Why it is that positive images cause negative actions? It might make sense to say these reactions are similar to the way we cry when we are overwhelmed with happiness.

But hold your assumptions because there is more.

Gwen Dewar, a biological anthropologist and founder of Parenting Science, also wanted to learn more about the impulse of nibbling on something we find cute.

Her study consisted of 30 women. Some women were recent mothers, and others were not. But, they were both required to smell different scents.

One scent was a placebo: just air. The other was the scent of newborn babies, which was collected from their worn cotton undershirts.

As they breathed in these scents, the women were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scanner.

The scanners recorded the newborn baby scents triggered a familiar reaction.

The odors stimulated particular areas of the brain that are "linked with the processing of rewards," and the women had "more activity in parts of the neostriatum, a brain region linked with the rush of pleasure we feel when we consume favorite foods or take mood-altering drugs."

So, We’re Not Crazy?

We are normal! Yes, we do want to bite off those cute baby cheeks and want to squeeze puppies. But, apparently that is the norm.

Now, we can scream these comments proudly as strangers give us bizarre looks. And we can tell them, "You don’t have to run! Just let us say hi to your puppy (or baby)."