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Seeing a picture of a cute puppy or kitten can make some people want to squeeze it. But does this mean that they feel aggressive? New research shows that, possibly, they do.

Psychologists have recently reported on a fascinating study which shows that seeing something unbearably cute brings out an aggressive instinct in most people. We have known about a ‘cute response’ for a long while, but this destructive side is something new.

Think back to the last time you saw something cute. For me it was a baby I saw at a friend’s house yesterday. Now, I have seen cute babies before. I am sure you have too. But this baby was… it was just… argh! It was so cute!

This reaction, of finding something so cute that you want to squeeze it, is what scientists refer to when they mean by ‘your aggressive side’.

It is the feeling you get when something is so cute that you have speak through clenched teeth just because you just cannot bear its cuteness and you want to cuddle it.

We have all heard someone say, ‘You are so cute, I could eat you all up’. Well the reasons for these emotions have never been fully understood until now. In some people, it is a very strong emotion and some cultures, such as in the Philippines even have a word, gigil, for that feeling where you just want to squish something.

Now, psychology researchers have presented a paper at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference which looks at just this phenomenon. Can something be so cute that it brings out the aggressive side in someone?

What is Cuteness?

Cuteness is often defined as something which is innocently attractive. Many people find that babies are cute. It is their big baby eyes and bigger heads and the innocent expressions on their faces which get me every time. Scientists have even developed a ‘cute index’ to describe exactly how attractive something is based on large eyes, a big baby head and chubby cheeks.

There are a lot of triggers for this response and they vary from person to person. So, while one person may find a kitten unbelievably cute, someone else may just not like cats at all and could even be turned off by seeing one. Also, apparently, post-menopausal women respond less well to babies than their younger counterparts.

In a way, it is obvious why we would find babies cute and feel protective over them because it is an excellent means of keeping our young ones safe. Babies are hard work! They take a lot of looking after. So it is a good thing that just looking at them already makes us feel more positive. There is a reward center in the brain which lights up when someone only looks at a baby.

And in a similar way, anything which has those baby characteristics can be cute and elicit the same responses from us. Bizarrely, many  different types of animals can be made to look cute with the addition of babyish features, and we have all found ourselves falling for kittens and puppies with huge eyes. There is even a ‘cuteness factor’ – a measure of just how cute something is. But do we actually feel aggressive in the presence of cuteness?

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