Why We Want to Squeeze Cute Things


If you’ve ever interacted with a puppy, kitten, or another adorable animal, then you’ve probably felt an overwhelming urge to pet, squeeze, or even pinch them. This impulse is called cute aggression, a response that is likely linked to our innate instinct to care for our young.


A study in 2018 aimed to understand the brain activity that triggers cute aggression. 54 participants aged 18-40 were fitted with EEG caps, which use electrodes to measure brain activity. They were shown 32 photographs, which were divided into four blocks: adult animals, baby animals, and two categories of human babies. One set of human baby photos showed babies with their cute features – eyes and cheeks – enhanced. The other set showed babies with their cute features reduced; smaller eyes and smaller cheeks. 


A questionnaire to measure the perceived cuteness of the babies and the levels of cute aggression experienced was given to the participants of the study. Baby animals received the strongest response; participants reported feeling significant levels of cute aggression. There was no difference in the reaction to babies with enhanced and reduced features. 


This study found that seeing cute things triggers the brain’s emotion and reward systems, which regulate motivation, pleasure, and desire. Cute aggression is the brain’s way of coping with the strong response in the brain’s emotion and reward systems when we see cute things. The brain uses aggression to counterbalance the overwhelming positive emotions of the two systems. 


This phenomenon is called a dimorphous expression of emotion. Someone may feel so overwhelmed with emotions that they have become unmanageable. The brain’s strategy to regulate this imbalance is to express an “opposite” emotion. 


A second study focused on proving that cute aggression is a dimorphous expression of emotion. 158 men and women of varying ages were recruited to take a survey that described the dimorphous expression of emotion across a variety of situations, ranging from the happiest moment of a movie to cute stimuli. This study confirmed that cute aggression is a dimorphous expression of emotion. 


Now that you know why you feel the urge to squeeze unbearably cute and fluffy things, there’s no need to worry about these aggressive tendencies. They’re a normal part of our response to adorable creatures!


Works Cited

Aragón, Oriana, et al. “Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli.” Psychological Science, vol. 26(3), 1 Nov. 2014, pp. 259-73, https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614561044. Accessed 30 Dec. 2021.

Glocker, Courtesy Melanie. “Kindchenschema Manipulation.” 2009. Discover Magazine, 13 Nov. 2019, www.discovermagazine.com/mind/why-babies-are-so-cute-and-why-we-react-the-way-we-do. Accessed 29 Dec. 2021.

Katz, Brigit. “Why We Want to Squeeze Cute, Little Things.” Smithsonian Magazine, 31 Dec. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-we-want-squeeze-cute-little-things-180971143/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2021.

“Puppy and Kitten.” Newsweek, 2 Jan. 2019, www.newsweek.com/cute-aggression-why-adorable-things-make-us-want-squeeze-them-death-1276933. Accessed 29 Dec. 2021..