Scientists Explain Why We Want to Squeeze Cute Animals

Maya Marin

What happens when you see something unbearably cute? Do the muscles in your upper body contract? Does your voice raise a couple octaves? Are you overcome with the urge to squeeze something...ANYthing? You might think that your desire to protect the tiny animal, baby, etc. is behind this drive to hold the cute thing so close that you risk smothering it. Well, what if I told you that a study was conducted on this very subject by psychology researchers from Yale University and their conclusions may be very different from what you might think? Whether you agree or disagree with what they conclude, their results are undeniably fascinating.

Dangerously Cute?

In 2013, Yale University Psychologists Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon published the results of their study on "cute aggression"—that odd compulsion to squeeze, pinch, or otherwise aggressively handle something cute out of sheer adoration. For example: "I could squish that puppy to death!" "You're so cute, I want to bite your cheeks off!"; "I love my cat so much, I could just eat him up!" And if they can't get their hands on the cute critter, something else will have to do. So, our researchers measured the level of their participants "cute aggression" by showing them a slideshow of animal photos—some funny, some neutral, and some cute—and then allowing them to handle bubble wrap (without telling them the reason why). According to Dyer and Aragon, popping bubble wrap can be interpreted as an expression of aggression. Turns out that significantly more bubbles were popped by folks when they looked at the cute photos!

Protection vs. Overpowering Positivity

If we see something tiny, adorable, and helpless, why the compulsion to hug, kiss, squeeze, and/or bite 'em 'til it hurts? The researchers offer a couple possible answers to what they observed. They think that the photos inspired an innately human, and deeply felt, desire to care and protect the animal, yet the frustration at not being able to do so turned this intense energy into something rather aggressive, even though aggression is never the person's intent. In short, the deep desire to love and protect (a rewarding feeling) can go a bit haywire, especially if the means to carry out these desires are somehow thwarted. Another possible reason the researchers suggest is that nature always has to put a cap on our emotions (even positive ones) and their consequential energy output. If this positive energy gets too out of hand, nature regulates the energy overflow by making the outcome negative.

So what do you think? Does all this sound plausible to you? I think I'll reserve my judgement until more evidence is revealed. In the meantime, I'll happily continue to overload my senses with all things cute and cuddly.