It is a common reflex to want to squeeze something that is cute. The question is why. What makes people want to express this form of cute aggression? Why is is that when it's so fluffy, people want to squeeze it to death?
A Study on the Science of Squeezing
In 2013 two research students from Yale University, Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon, studied this very phenomenon. They found that extreme cuteness seems to trigger an aggressive response from the viewer.
For the study they invited 109 volunteers, both male and female, to look at a series of pictures. All showcased animals -- some were incredibly cute, some were humorous, and some depicted animals perceived to be more normal in appearance, or at least not as cute.
Each study participant was given a sheet of bubble wrap and told that was the study was about motor skills. So as long as they kept popping the bubble wrap, they would be adhering to the study.
What Dyer and Aragon discovered should not come as a big surprise to anyone. They found that the rate at which the bubble wrap was popped was in direct correlation to how cute the animal was. The cuter the animal, the more bubble wrap was popped.
The funny animals caused the viewers to pop 80 bubbles, the normal animals scored just over 100, and the so-called cute animals elicited the viewers to pop 120 bubbles on average.
But Why Do People Want to Squeeze Cute Things?
While the findings may come as no surprise, the reasoning behind it actually might. According to Dyer, the reason you want to squeeze that cute puppy or kitten may be because of the brain's impulse to balance out that cuteness.
It is the same idea behind why you can be so happy that you cry. Basically, it is so cute that you just can't handle it, so your brain, in order to not go into overload, expresses an aggressive reaction.
Another theory is that the viewer, frustrated by the fact that they are unable to actually reach the cute thing in the photo, becomes aggressive in an attempt to get at the thing in the picture. This, however, does not explain why people feel the need to squeeze cute things when they are actually in the presence of said cute thing.
It doesn't explain why people squeeze their children until that child protests that they are being squeezed too tightly. Or why your great-aunt feels the need to squeeze your cheeks. Or why some children who do not know any better find themselves coming close to squeezing their pets to death.
According to Anna Brooks, a cognitive neuroscience lecturer at Southern Cross University, it all has to do with the release of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is tied both to feelings of joy and aggression. When people see something incredibly cute, dopamine is released in the brain. That triggers happy responses, as well as those urges to squeeze. But luckily, you don't have to be worried about acting out on those aggressive tendencies.
Most people have enough self control to keep those tendencies in check.
The Good News
Researchers are continuing to look into the correlation between cuteness and aggression. But for now, there's no need for you to worry.
Feeling that overwhelming desire to squeeze something cute it completely natural, normal, and to be expected. So, go squeeze your nephew's cheeks, wrap your arms around your dog, or give your child an extra tight squeeze.
It doesn't mean that you are trying to hurt them. You are simply acting in response to their overwhelming cuteness.