What Is Cute Aggression, and Why Is It So Pervasive?

Published 11/23/2020

Cute Aggression

It is not uncommon to hear something along the lines of “It’s so cute! I just want to squeeze it!” or “Oh, my gosh—it is so adorable, I could scream.” It comes as no surprise to most that something being small, cute, or sweet elicits a very real aggressive instinct. Although it is well-known that such feelings and expressions exist, many people are unaware of why they feel this way or the exact mechanisms behind the notion of something cute inspiring feelings that are violent or aggressive. Although it may not seem to be particularly aggressive to see an older woman eagerly reaching for a cheek to pinch, even this simple gesture of affection and familiarity involves the components of cute aggression.

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First Up: What Constitutes Aggression?

Finding an exact definition of aggression is difficult to do;. However, some would argue that aggression is any willful violence. Others would argue that aggression can be unintentional and even harmless, provided that it is not acted upon. Some sources identify aggression as any behavior that willfully and intentionally brings harm to another person. Simultaneously, a simple dictionary definition argues that aggression is far more akin to hostility, regardless of whether or not it is physically or verbally expressed. This second definition of aggression is far more likely to be the type of aggression found in conjunction with finding something cute because most cute aggression does not involve squeezing something tightly enough to do damage or slapping something that has struck an emotional chord with you.

Aggression itself can be accompanied by actual violence or may involve an aggressive impulse—the desire to bite, for instance, or hold something more tightly than would typically be considered appropriate. Aggression can be found in children when they experience frustration with a friend. It can be found in adults—both those without a history of violence and those with a substantial history of violence. It is important to note, then, that aggression and violence are not necessarily synonymous. Aggression can exist without violence, though violence does not typically exist without violence.

Cute: A Simple Definition

The dictionary definition of cute is “attractive in an endearing way.” Although it is not stated outright in the definition, cute is typically applied to small, young, or particularly diminuitive appearances. Babies, young animals, fluffy-haired creatures, and smiling faces are all regularly associated with the word “cute,” and all have the potential to inspire a touch of aggression in someone experiencing cuteness aggression or cute aggression. Cute is typically focused on appearances or physical characteristics but can also be applied to sounds, traits, and affectations, such as a sneezing puppy with a high-pitched squeak or an emphatic giggle.

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Cute can also frequently be quantified by the helplessness (or perceived helplessness) of an object or person. This is often why babies and young children are seen as cute: they inspire a sense of protectiveness, which triggers a positive emotional response. This emotional response can just as easily elicit an “aw!” as it can an “I just want to smother it with kisses!” Although the desire to smother the object or person in question with kisses is likely not present, the aggressive feeling behind the phrase may be very real.

Cute Aggression: A Common Intersection

What is cute aggression? Although it may seem strange to feel a surge of aggression after seeing something that inspires a thought such as “how cute,” it is far less uncommon than might immediately seem to be the case. People may be tempted to hide their unbidden urge to squeeze, punch, or aggressively handle something that they find adorable, sweet, or cute, but doing so is not necessary; cute aggression need not inspire shame, as it comes from a very real, very common, and very easily explainable experience in the human brain. When the mind is overrun with positive emotion, it can trigger simultaneous feelings of overwhelm, which can lead to aggressive impulses.

According to one health professional, cute aggression is experienced because portions of the brain corresponding to emotions and rewards are triggered, which can essentially overload an individual’s mental faculties. To compensate, the body develops an aggressive response, which can drag down some of the overwhelmingly positive responses. This response triggers an impulse to squeeze the cute person or thing in question, or similarly aggressive behavior, such as biting. Cute aggression, biting, squeezing, and tackling is related to the intersection of emotional responses and reward centers. Some have postulated that this impulse serves an evolutionary purpose; if you were to continually stare at your child, in awe over how adorable they are, they could be attacked by a wild animal and suffer harm. If, however, your awe is punctuated by an aggressive instinct, you will be prepared to protect your child.

Cute aggression is quite common and affects just over 50% of adults. Experiencing cute aggression may inspire guilt or shame, but it need not inspire any form of humiliation because it is not only common but reasonable; just as someone might shiver, shake, or bounce around following a spike of adrenaline, people may feel the need to squeeze, pop, or smack something when a spike of positive and protective feelings flood into their brain or body.

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When Cute Goes Wrong: Cute Aggression Pitfalls

Although cute aggression does not typically result in actual harm or expressed bursts of physical aggression, an increase in aggression or uncontrolled aggressive impulses can signal cause for alarm. People who experience aggressive feelings are not necessarily aggressive—everyone can encounter aggressive feelings. What matters, more, is how intense aggressive impulses are, how under control they are, and how safe you feel—on behalf of yourself and others. Aggression is at the root of many crimes and inappropriate behaviors, but it rarely appears in a vacuum; instead, aggression is often accompanied by other impulses or catalysts before engaging in violence, including betrayal, fear, jealousy outrage.

Feeling aggression regularly can be extremely problematic and disrupt normal, healthy functioning, including workplace relationships and personal relationships. Not sure whether or not the aggression you’re experiencing is normal or excessive? There are online surveys that can identify whether aggression is typical or standard or tipping over into problematic or dangerous regions. A simple test can be found here.

Cute Aggression Normalities

Aggression is not abnormal; everyone feels aggression at one point or another. It is not until aggression becomes debilitating or begins to interfere in healthy functioning that it becomes problematic. This can include cuteness aggression that results in aggressive impulses or can center around other forms of aggression entirely. In any case, though, mental health evaluation and assistance are likely to improve aggression and stave off potentially hazardous situations for both the experiencing individual aggression and those closest to them.

Cute Aggression: A Pervasive Phenomenon

Why do we experience cute aggression? In short, we are too overjoyed and need a spike of something to bring us down from our high and ground us in the present moment. While it may seem to be a strange pairing, highly positive, caretaking emotions and aggressive emotions are frequently linked; parents typically feel extremely protective of their children. Even animals in nature demonstrate some variation of combined affection and aggression. The experience is not an overly complicated or even typically dangerous one but is a natural, normal human brain experience.

Cute aggression is typically not caused for concern; the type of aggression experienced during cute aggression is not one that often causes people actually to act out their feelings but is instead a type of trick of the brain to temper feelings that feel overwhelming or excessive. Cute aggression may not seem like a particularly complicated mechanism. Still, as is so often the case with the human mind, it serves an important function in regulating emotional responses and rewards. Its function in regulating emotions is why it is so pervasive: cute aggression does not indicate a faulty mental mechanism. Still, it indicates a normal, healthy mental mechanism that keeps emotional responses carefully in check.

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Cute Aggression Treatment

If you are concerned about your standard response to seeing something cute or hearing a cute little voice or sound, it will not hurt to seek professional advice and evaluations. For most, cute aggression is completely innocent. Still, any aggression can be cause for concern if it comes in conjunction with impulse control issues, violence, feelings of self-harm, or loss of control. If you or a loved one have gone beyond the commonplace experience of cute aggression (or “cuteness aggression”), and are experiencing consistent or overwhelming bouts of aggressive feelings, a consultation with a mental health professional can determine the source of the aggression in question and potential avenues toward health.

If you feel as if you have symptoms for aggression, take the male online aggression test here or the female online aggression test here for more information.