Some people bombarded by the sight of cute little children and adorable baby animals may experience violent urges. Scientists say that encountering too much cuteness can lead to something known as "cute aggression."
What Is Cute Aggression?
Katherine Stavropoulos, a psychologist from the University of California, Riverside who published a study about the phenomenon, said that cute aggression can be baffling and embarrassing to those who experience it.
"People "just have this flash of thinking: 'I want to crush it' or 'I want to squeeze it until pops' or 'I want to punch it,' " Stavropoulos said. "This is weird; I'm probably the only one who feels this way. I don't want to hurt it. I just want to eat it."
Stavropoulos, however, explained that people who feel this way do not have a desire to cause harm. The thought also appear as an involuntary response to being overwhelmed by positive emotion.
Researchers at Yale University first described the phenomenon several years ago but in a new study, Stavropoulos and colleagues sought to find out what it looked like in the brain.
They recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 young adults as they look at images of grown-ups and babies. Some look less appealing while others look extra adorable.
Emotion And Brain's Reward System
The researchers found that the sight of cute creatures was associated with more activity in the area of the brain involved in emotion. They also found that the more cute aggression an individual felt, the more activity they see in the brain's reward system.
These observations suggest that people who think about squishing adorable animals may be driven by a combination of two powerful forces in the brain: reward and emotion.
Researchers said this combination can be overwhelming, which could be the reason the brain begins to produce aggressive thoughts. They said that these negative emotions could be helping people manage the positive ones that are working disruptively.
"The urge people get to squeeze or bite cute things, albeit without desire to cause harm, is known as "cute aggression," the researchers wrote in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
"Cute aggression appears to be a complex and multi-faceted emotional response that likely serves to mediate strong emotional responses and allow caretaking to occur."