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What is "Cute Aggression"?

Ever had the uncontrollable urge to pinch or squeeze something really cute? More often than not, it’s cute babies, children and animals that provoke this intriguing behavioral response.


The compulsion to squeeze, squish, pinch, eat, crush and bite cute things, without any actual desire to inflict or cause harm, is known as cute aggression. Scientific interest in the subject arose in large part courtesy of a poster presentation of research findings at the annual conference Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2013, titled: "It’s So Cute I Want To Squish it! How Cuteness Leads To Verbal Expressions of Aggression"; which was introduced by the authors as follows:


Two studies investigated the phenomenon where viewing cute stimuli leads to verbal expressions of aggression. Results showed that ratings of cute (not funny/neutral) animals predicted endorsement of aggressive statements (mediated by loss of control). After viewing cute images, participants were more likely to choose aggressive responses to end ambiguous stories. (Rebecca Dyer, Oriana Aragón, Chelcie Piasio, Margaret Clark and John Bargh)


Such was the media interest in cute aggression following the presentation, the study even featured on the very popular, British comedy panel game television quiz show QI.




The Function of Cute Aggression


Building on their original work, Dyer et al began to explore the function of cute aggression. In doing so, they suggested that cute aggression was a dimorphous expression of emotion, which will typically arise when we become overwhelmed with emotion. Its function, therefore, is one of emotional regulation. A biologically driven balancing act, cute aggression kicks in when positive emotions are running so high, that if left unchecked, they could become physiologically damaging. As Dyer and Aragón note:


“It might be that how we deal with high positive-emotion is to sort of give it a negative pitch somehow.”


As a subject that most, if not all of your students will be able to relate to, cute aggression is a great topic to cover in class. Here are a few ideas that you could explore along the way.


  • In addition to cute aggression, what other examples of dimorphous expression of emotion can students think of (e.g. tears of joy)?


  • Does dimorphous expression of emotion also relate to high negative emotion? Research suggests that it does; for instance, Fredrickson and Levenson found that fifty out of 72 subjects smiled at least once while watching a film designed to elicit sadness.


  • Is cute aggression a universal trait? Fun fact, "Gigil" is an untranslatable word from the Philippines used to describe an uncontrollable feeling when one is overwhelmed by an emotion, typically used in reference to something cute such as a baby or puppy.


  • To make the point that scientific interest in cuteness has a long history, you may want to outline Konrad Lorenz's landmark work on baby schema ('Kindchenschema') in which he proposed that baby features commonly considered cute such as a round face and big eyes serve to motivate caregiving behavior in adults.

I do like popping bubble wrap, however.

Frequent Commenter

@Nicholas me too!


Must admit that I find the idea of being 'aggressive' towards puppies/kittens/babies really disturbing!  But tears for joy makes perfect sense 🙂

Not applicable

Glad to hear other people experience this.  Wonder what the correlation is between those who feel it and those who act on it (and later become mass murderers).


I love popping bubble wrap!