It was the line that everyone knew — when Agnes saw the unicorn stuffed animal at a fair, she screeched, “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” The iconic moment from the animated feature “Despicable Me” became a popular Gif and almost ubiquitous pop culture reference, partly because so many viewers could relate to what Agnes felt when she first saw the adorable toy. And when she clang tightly to the unicorn, that was relatable, too — at least for a large percentage of the population.
This tendency to “squeeze, crush, or bite cute things, albeit without any desire to cause harm,” now has a name. It’s called “cute aggression,” and it turns out the phenomenon has a basis in our neurology.
An article that was recently published in the journal Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience found that people who experience cute aggression are reacting to a strong emotional response to positive feelings so they can still fulfill their care-taking responsibilities. If a mother became incapacitated every time she looked at her baby, she would not be able to provide her child with the care he or she needs to survive. Same thing with our adorable pets — if we’re always obsessing over how cute they are, we may be unable to feed them or take them on walks.
When we want to squeeze our Snoopy or Pluto tight, it may seem like a strange, somewhat destructive intuitive response. But really, it’s a coping mechanism so we can keep them safe and cared for. So here’s to being aggressive toward cute things! Turns out it’s not such a crazy inclination after all.
And for those who never feel cute aggression, worry not — you’re not alone.
“It’s definitely not a universal experience, which I find fascinating,” lead author Katherine Stavropoulos told Inverse. “When I describe the phenomenon to people, I usually see that about 70 to 75 percent of people nod immediately and know exactly what I’m describing and have experienced it. The other 25 to 30 percent look at me strangely and have no clue what I’m talking about or why anyone would feel that.”