Gah! Oh my goodness that puppy is soooo adorable I could just snuggle it to death!

Have you ever had a similar thought? Or heard someone express a similar sentiment? This is what is known as cute aggression.

Of course, the person has no actual desire to hurt the cute little animal or baby they see. But they become so overwhelmed by the puppy’s cuteness that feelings of aggression arise.

Why does this happen? And what should you do if you are a cute aggressor? Let’s take a look.

White American Eskimo puppy dog named Rambo. Adorable brown eyes and floppy ears. Soft fluffy fur.

The Science Behind Cute Aggression

We are quite used to people showing the opposite emotion for what would seem to fit the occasion. For example, some people cry at weddings or scream when they see their favorite band.

The same thing happens with cute aggression. People want to pinch or bite chubby baby cheeks or squish a cute little doggy until their eyes pop out.

They are letting out a typically negative emotion in a positive situation.

This is known scientifically as a dimorphous expression of positive emotion. Researchers theorize that it is a mechanism to help people handle strong emotions. In other words, when the brain is feeling overwhelmed by a positive emotion, it responds with a negative one to help regulate.

senior mixed breed dog walk

A Study of Cute Aggression

To study this phenomenon, Katherine Stavropoulos and her colleagues conducted this study on a group of people ranging in age from 18 - 40. The researchers showed the participants images of cute babies and young animals as well as less cute babies and older animals.

Then they watched what happened with the electrical activity in participants’ brains as they observed these images.

They discovered a spike in activity both in the brain areas involved with emotions and the reward centers of the brain. This spike was observed, of course, when the person was viewing an adorable image. The same spike did not happen when the image was less cute.

The research on this is still in its early stages. However, the current theory is that this increased activity in both emotion and reward centers is overwhelming for some people. As a mechanism to control it, the brain produces negative, aggressive emotions.

Of course, the person doesn’t actually want to hurt the object of cuteness. And people generally have enough self-control that they would never hug a puppy until it popped.

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Cute Aggression and Stranger’s Pets

While cute aggressors would never hurt the object of cuteness, they will still react in other ways. This includes pinching a baby’s cheeks or growling at them, picking up or hugging a puppy, or showering the dog with kisses.

These behaviors are normal and acceptable in certain situations — but not all.

For example, though you might gently pinch your own baby’s cheeks, you wouldn’t suddenly pick up a stranger’s baby and do the same. That would be odd and definitely not socially acceptable behavior.

But you might pet a stranger’s dog without asking permission first. Most people won’t get as upset about a stranger touching their pet as they would about a stranger touching their child.

However, it isn’t always appropriate to touch other people’s pets either. We should always be respectful to both other people and their pets. Though that dog is so adorable you could just hug it to death, a stranger’s touch may be very stressful for that dog. They may try to defend themselves by growling or even biting.

Cute Aggression and Seeing-Eye Dogs

This is especially true when you come across a seeing-eye dog or other working dog assisting its owner. Even though the dog looks relaxed, they are trained to always be vigilant and prepared to perform the task at hand.

If they are being distracted by the cute aggression of a passersby, they may not perform their job well and their owner could even get hurt because of it.

Keep in mind that working dogs are not required to wear a harness with a sign. Anyone’s pet could actually be a working dog so it’s generally best to resist your cute aggressive impulses with strangers’ pets.

But don’t worry, you can get your fill of puppy hugs with your own puppy or your friends (if you ask first)!