If looking at pictures of cute animals like fuzzy kittens and cuddly puppies fills you with the uncontrollable urge to squeeze the life out of them, rest assured that you’re not a “budding sociopath” says Rebecca Dyer, a graduate student in psychology at Yale University.
The phenomenon dubbed “cute aggression” was presented by Dyer at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans.
“We think it’s about high positive-affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control,” said Dyer. “You know, you can’t stand it, you can’t handle it, that kind of thing.”
Dyer asked volunteers to rate pictures of cute, funny and neutral animals with statements such as “I can’t handle it!” “want to squeeze something” and “want to say something like ‘grr!’” The cuter animals received more violent responses like “grr.”
A second group was asked to pop bubble wrap to verify that the verbal responses matched up with real emotions. The result was the same. The participates expressed frustration at being unable to squeeze the animals by squeezing the bubble wrap proportionally to the cuteness of the creature.
It’s also possible the aggression is a means to keep our emotions in balance.
“It might be that how we deal with high positive-emotion is to sort of give it a negative pitch somehow, explains Dyer. “That sort of regulates, keeps us level and releases that energy.”
In related news: there’s a bubble wrap shortage.