The Dark Side Of Adorable

Sep 10 2013 @ 8:29pm

Anna Brooks and Ricky Van Der Zwan delve into the phenomenon of “cute aggression”:

A team from Yale University reported that viewing images of critters high in baby schema characteristics [cuteness] inspires what appears to be observer aggression. Specifically, observers were more likely to report wanting to say “grr” and squeeze the cutest of a range of different critters to which they were exposed. They were more also likely to pop bubble wrap – an indicator of aggression – when looking at them.

Despite its initial apparent contradiction with care-giving behaviors, this link to aggression has at least some intuitive appeal. Many of us have experienced the desire to almost literally squeeze the life out of something adorable, even if only as children. Those childhood desires to squeeze a kitten tightly and pluck the eyes off a teddy bear are reflected in adult language: “You’re so cute, I want to eat you all up.”

So why might cuteness elicit a combination of care-giving and aggression? The Yale researchers suggest that aggressive tendencies manifesting in response to cuteness are a type of distorted outcome of the intense emotions elicited by cute things. They speculate that frustration at not being able to satisfy the intense desire to care for the viewed object results in a type of violent response – a form of caregiving instinct gone feral.

Previous Dish on the cuteness-cruelty nexus here.