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Why We Have the Urge to Bite, Squish, or Pinch the Ones We Find Cute

Admit it, we’ve all wanted to pinch our friend’s adorable newborn baby’s chubby cheeks, and it happens every time, almost as if we’re compelled to do this. We also find ourselves wanting to squish the cheeks of an adorable little pup, not just humans. Don’t worry though, this is called “cute aggression” and it’s totally normal to want to do it, according to this study.

At Bright Side, we’re big fans of pinchable, squishable cheeks and we’re here to help you understand why exactly we feel this urge.

What it means to experience “cute aggression”

Cuteness is all around us and sometimes it’s so intense that it makes us get aggressive but in a nice, harmless way. A lot of us have experienced thoughts like, “I want to crush it,” or “I want to squeeze its chubby cheeks,” and more. But don’t worry, this is totally normal, according to psychologist Katherine Stavropoulos.

Her study about the “cute aggression” phenomenon, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, discovered that almost half of adults experience this. But she also pointed out that those people wouldn’t actually hurt anyone. “When people feel this way, it’s with no desire to cause harm,” she says. She continues by explaining that she understands how people might find it strange or baffling, but it’s normal and we shouldn’t worry about it.

Humans find babies with certain features more adorable.

Kathrine Stavropoulos, who is also a cute aggressor, conducted a little research alongside a colleague, in which they recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 young adults as they looked at images of animals and people. While some images were manipulated to look less appealing, others were changed to appear way more appealing with big cheeks, big eyes, small noses, and other features associated with adorability.

The study found that adorable images spiked more activity in brain areas that were connected to emotion. And the more “aggression” a person felt, the more activity was present in the brain’s reward system. Stavropoulos came to the conclusion that the desire to smush a puppy’s cheeks or pinch a baby’s cheeks is driven by both the reward and the emotion systems of the brain. That’s how the phenomenon appears.

Animal or human babies make us want to pinch and squish their cheeks.

Another study, which was published by Oriana Aragon, backed up Stavropoulos’ study as it discovered that people who have extremely positive reactions toward sweet pictures of babies also “displayed stronger aggressive expression,” such as pinching, squishing, and squeezing cheeks.

Another experiment in that study showed that participants popped more bubble wrap when they saw images of lovable baby animals, as opposed to those who viewed pictures of older animals. This shows that if people were given the chance to squeeze something while seeing adorable pictures, they totally would. Though, not with harmful intent, Aragon clarifies.

“Baby schema” is why we find babies delightful.

We understand why we feel the need to pinch the cheeks of adorable little babies, but why do we actually find them so adorable? Well, according to Konrad Lorenz, there’s something called “baby schema,” which explains why we find baby creatures so lovely. It covers the specific physical features such as a large head, a small face, big round eyes, small ears, a short snout, chubby cheeks, and more.

What’s even more curious is that these characteristics increase the survival rate with offspring that are dependant on care. It makes it possible for adult animals take care of cubs of different species, which goes for human babies as well.

Do you ever experience “cute aggression?” If so, what’s your go-to move: cheek pinching or squishing? Please let us know!