Most of us have had his reaction: you see a cute baby and you want to pinch their cheeks or “eat them right up.” It’s the same reaction for cute baby animals that make you want to squeeze them, and it’s totally normal!
This emotional response is called a “dimorphous expression of positive emotion,” or more commonly called cute aggression. Cute aggression happens when a cute stimulus, like a baby or kitten, prompts a slightly violent emotional response. A dimorphous expression describes the sensation when two expressions stem from one origin.
Researchers at Yale University studied this phenomenon by tracking adults’ responses to cute stimuli through online surveys. Photos of babies generally brought on a nurturing response, followed by a feeling of aggression. Participants said they wanted to “pinch the babies’ cheeks or eat them up.”
These coupled reactions are an attempt to regulate our extreme emotions. When people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, they attempt to restore emotional equilibrium with negative emotions.
The study showed that people who had both reactions were actually able to recover better from those strong emotions. And luckily, since the aggression stems from positivity, it’s highly unlikely that the negative response will actually occur.
So the next time you feel the urge to squeeze your baby, remember that your brain is only trying to restore the balance from the cuteness overload!