For their research at Yale, Oriana Aragón and Rebecca Dyer are exploring our response to adorable animals and children:
The most important point that I would like to make is that I do not believe, nor do I have evidence, that people actually want to hurt cute things. My research was spurred on when I witnessed very playful responses to cute things. I saw how people seemed to want to squeeze and pinch cute things (i.e. Grandma pinching cheeks), and I thought—if you take that out of context, if you look at it at face value—it is a bit odd to want to pinch or squeeze something that is very cute. I was curious “why” someone would, for instance, want to squeeze cute kittens.
A summary of the experiment:
For part two the researchers brought 90 participants into the lab, provided them with bubble wrap and showed them pictures of cute, funny or neutral animals. The metric in this part was the number of bubbles popped while watching. Viewers of funny animals popped an average of 80 bubbles during a session and members of the neutral group popped about 100 each. But the people who saw cute animals popped a whopping 120 bubbles!
So the researchers have verified that cute aggression exists, but they are still in the dark about why we do it. They suggest it may be the result of an unfulfilled desire to care for the cute animals, since they are only images. Or maybe it’s a negative expression for a positive emotion. Or maybe our brains are just being ironic.