“Cute Aggression” is the scientific term used to describe that violent feeling you get when you see something that’s unbearably cute. It’s not something that people discuss openly, because it’s a little embarrassing, but it’s there in all of us when we look at a particularly cute and tiny baby or some adorable animal.
This term was coined by Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon in 2013 when the two were graduate students of Yale University. They ran an experiment that analyzed subjects’ responses to adorable images, looking to see how prevalent cute aggression was. The research found that the cuter the picture, the more aggressive the response was from people. “So cute I could… die, eat you up, kill you, maul you,” said one of the subjects. Creepy, but also relatable.
Katherine Stavropoulos, professor at the University of California, conducted another study on cute aggression and theorized that these findings could help us figure out how our brain rewards center works. “These are very cute things that you might want to approach. You might want to take care of them. You’re having very positive feelings—in fact, so many feelings that you’re overwhelmed by them. To me, that sounds like a very, very active reward system,” she said on an interview with The Atlantic. Stavropoulos tests took things further than the Yale study of 2013, mapping out subjects’ brain activity through the use of EEG caps while showing them images of cute babies and animals. The study concluded that cute aggression flares when you’re brain is overwhelmed – when something is too cute to handle and your emotions don’t know how to cope with it.
Scientists theorize that when you feel cute aggression, the best way to express it is to smudge your puppy or squeeze the baby. Once you do this, you release these energies and can go back to being the caretaker that nature meant you to be. “A baby can’t survive alone, but if you’re so overwhelmed by how cute it is and how much you love it, then you can’t take care of it, and that baby won’t survive.” The violence acts as a countermeasure, balancing out your feelings.
So, now you know. Don’t feel embarrassed when your dog or a baby on the subway make you want to punch something; it’s your brain’s natural response to the cuteness. Hug your dog. Just don’t hug a stranger’s baby.