Scientists may have found a reason why you can’t stop pinching the cheeks of adorable babies.
Researchers at Yale University describe this phenomenon as “cute aggression.” They studied the brains of 52 participants via electrophysiology and found that people have a strong reaction to pets and humans with more infantile features.
“The Yale researchers initially found that people reported feeling cute aggression more in response to baby animals versus adult animals,” Katherine Stavropoulos, a special education professor at the University of California, wrote in a press release. “But even beyond that, people reported feeling cute aggression more in response to picture of human babies that had been digitally enhanced to appear more infantile, and therefore ‘more cute,’ by enlarging features like their eyes, cheeks, and foreheads.”
The study also saw that respondents felt more overwhelmed and wanted to take care of cute baby animals over less cute adult animals.
Stavropoulos argues that our “cute aggression,” the feeling that something is so adorable you can’t take it, serves as an evolutionary function.
“For example, if you find yourself incapacitated by how cute a baby is — so much so that you simply can’t take care of it — that baby is going to starve,” Stavropoulos said. “Cute aggression may serve as a tempering mechanism that allows us to function and actually take care of something we might first perceive as overwhelmingly cute.”