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Sweet aggression: Why we almost want to crush something when it's too cute

Sweet aggression: Why we almost want to crush something when it's too cute


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Why we literally go crazy with baby animals and humans

Hardly anything is more widespread and popular on the Internet than pictures and videos of baby dogs and cats. Some people experience a veritable “cuteness attack” when they are seen, in which they feel a strong urge to hug, press or even bite the baby animal violently without the desire to cause any damage. Where does this widespread urge come from? Psychologists recently researched this phenomenon of cuteness aggression.

Many people know it: When you see a cute baby animal, you want to grab it and press it as hard as possible. This urge also arises in many people with human babies and children. A research team led by psychologist Katherine Stavropoulos from the University of California - Riverside tracked down this common pattern of behavior to better understand the strange form of aggression. The study results were recently published in the specialist journal "Frontiers in Behavioral Nueroscience".

Are we helpless to cuteness?

Research director Stavropoulos went into the subject after reading an investigation into this type of aggression. In 2015, a team of psychologists from Yale University reported on the phenomenon. The Yale researchers initially found that the respondents reacted more to baby animals than to adult animals. Stavropoulos wanted to deepen the knowledge in this area. "If people reported that they felt the urge to squeeze or even bite creatures they thought were cute, this should also be reflected as a pattern of activity in the brain," the psychologist said in a press release about the study results.

What happens in the brain when we see babies

For research purposes, study participants agreed to look at 32 photos from each of the categories baby, baby animal, and adult animal while their brain activity was being measured. Then they had to fill out a questionnaire on how they felt when they saw the pictures. "There was a particularly strong correlation between the self-rated cuteness aggression against cute baby animals and the recorded reward response in the brain," said Stavropoulos. This confirms the thesis that the reward system is involved in this form of aggression.

People with children find baby babies sweeter

The results also showed that the response was much more violent in the baby animals than in the adult animals. The same patterns were not found consistently in human babies. "I think if you have a child and look at pictures of cute babies, you may show more sweet aggression and stronger neuronal responses than people who don't have children," the psychologist suspects.

Where does this feeling come from?

According to the researchers, the study provides the first neuronal evidence for the significant feelings of cuteness aggression. Why we feel such emotions remains theory. Stavropoulos sees this process as an evolutionary means to ensure that humans are able to take care of creatures that they think are particularly cute. "If we find something overwhelmingly sweet, we tend to take care of it," sums up the psychologist. (vb)

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