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Want to Eat Your Baby’s Cute Cheeks? Here’s Why

By Matt SloaneDecember 5, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

That adorable new baby, or that cute little puppy… You want to bite it, don’t you? Or pinch its little cheeks? And you just can’t help yourself, right?

Don’t worry, that doesn’t make you weird. As it turns out, there’s an actual scientific reason behind it, complete with a fancy name. It’s a dimorphous expression, or simply put, “cuteness aggression.”

The strange, seemingly violent reaction to cute things was explained by Yale researchers in a new study, which says the reaction by some people is the brain’s way of balancing out extremely positive feelings.

“When you see something that’s unbearably cute, you have this high positive reaction,” said Oriana Aragon, PhD, a professor in the department of psychology at Yale University and the lead study author. “These feelings get overwhelming, and for some reason (with) cuteness, the ‘dimorphous expression’ happens to be the gritting of teeth, clenching of fists, and aggressive statements like ‘I wanna eat you.’”

This is all the brain’s way of bringing you back into a normal, more manageable range of emotions.

Just what is so wrong with being super happy?

“Being very high or really low still releases stress hormones, and it’ll still be hard on the body,” says Aragon.

Don’t have any idea what we’re talking about? If you can’t relate to wanting to nibble on a small child, maybe you’ve cried tears of joy during an extremely positive emotional moment. The same phenomenon, Aragon says, causes the brain to trigger tears – a seemingly negative response – to a very positive experience.

Interestingly, she says, the effect is also seen in the opposite context, where people in intensely angry situations may feel the need to smile or laugh.

So what is the point of all of this research? Is it simply to make us feel better about seemingly odd impulses directed at cute kids? Nope.

“Potentially this could led to better therapies for clinicians for people who are having a difficult time managing their emotions,” says Aragon. “You see (bipolar) people go manic for days – they’re really high, they’re really up. That has deleterious effects on the body.”

Don’t, worry though. No babies were harmed in the course of this research. The “aggressive impulses” she describes were not to actually hurt the babies, only to pinch their itty bitty little cheeks.

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