Ever wonder why you get an urge to suddenly pinch a cute baby’s cheeks? Or ever felt that sick, twisted desire to squeeze an adorable puppy to death? Believe it or not, those urges are quite normal and fall under the same range of emotion called “cute aggression.” While the concept may seem a bit psycho, scientists have a very reasonable explanation for it.
According to researchers, seeing something adorable or cute can create an overwhelming sense of happiness and positivity. This feeling may then be replaced by an inexplicable desire to harm that cuteness.
In a paper published earlier this year in the journal Psychological Science, Yale University researchers explained that this secondary, negative urge is a way for our emotions to counteract the overly positive reaction.
Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon first documented “cute aggression” in 2012. Their research involved 109 participants who were asked to hold bubble wrap as a slideshow of animals with funny, cute or neutral expressions was exhibited.
The rise in bubble popping was already expected for the cute animals, however their findings showed that the participants exceeded expectations and popped far more bubbles than the other groups.
One notable finding was that aggression toward cute animals who are physically reachable is higher. The test was also conducted using pictures of babies and the result was the same.
The study says this phenomenon belongs to one of a series of paradoxical combinations of positive and negative emotions called “dimorphous expressions,” examples of which are nervous laughter or tears of joy.
According to the researchers, this is our brain’s way of regulating our emotional responses, as any sudden spike in emotion uses an extra amount of energy.
“The ability to regulate one’s strength of emotional response is highly adaptive: It stops us from investing too much energy into things,” Anna Brooks, a Southern Cross University cognitive neuroscience expert, told Vice.
So the next time you feel that sudden violent urge, it doesn’t mean you’re going psycho, it’s basically your brain saying, “Calm down, it’s just a puppy!”