Have you ever seen an adorable baby and wanted to pinch her cheeks? Sure you have. How about wanting to squeeze a cute bunny? Yep – guilty as charged.
But do you know that researchers have coined a term for this urge? They call it “cute aggression.”
Initially, researchers at Yale University began studying this phenomenon by showing study participants pictures of cute, funny or neutral animals. Participants were asked to rate the animals, state if they agreed with statements like “I can’t handle it,” and rate the extent to which the pictures made them “want to squeeze something.”
In a second experiment, the research team showed cute, funny and neutral animal pictures, gave participants bubble wrap and told them to pop as many or as few bubbles as they wished. More bubbles were popped when the cute pictures were viewed.
At first, the scientists were unsure why cuteness triggered aggression. After continuing their research, they related cute aggression to dimorphous expressions – two different expressions that have the same origin. These paradoxical manifestations exhibited during an emotional experience can include nervous laughter or tears of joy.
“They seem to take place when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, and people who do this seem to recover better from those strong emotions,” researcher Oriana Aragon said in a November 2014 article on Yale’s website.
In the new study, participants who expressed higher levels of care when viewing photos of cute infants also reported higher expressions of aggression, such as wanting to pinch the child’s cheeks.
Those individuals also displayed a larger decline in positive emotion within minutes of viewing the images, according to a November 2014 article by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), which will publish the study’s findings. In other words, the negative emotions of aggression may have helped restore the participants’ emotional equilibrium.
Of course, it’s not that people wanted to be aggressive toward an adorable tyke. Rather, they may have been so giddy that they couldn’t control their squeezing or pinching, the APS article noted.
Think of it as: “It’s so cute, I just can’t stand it.”
This concept is apparently not limited by language or culture. Aragon told The Washington Post that in Tagalog, which is spoken in the Philippines, the phrase “gigil” refers to the “gritting of teeth and the urge to pinch or squeeze.”
The research could further the understanding of how people display and handle their emotions, which is linked to “mental and physical health,” and interpersonal relationships, Aragon told the Yale website.