Apparently, witnessing cuteness is the Achilles heel of humankind. We can’t handle it. Or so evidence arising from some new research might seem to suggest.
Why We Go Crazy for Cute reports on research at Yale University investigating some seemingly contradictory, but common reactions to cuteness. Past research has generally suggested “cuteness” is a cluster of features associated with human infants that inspire us to be gentle and caring. There has been research suggesting that cute animal images may boost work performance, for example. In that study, viewing images of cute animals improved performance on the game Operation (who said research was boring?!). The study Manipulation of Infant-Like Traits Affects Perceived Cuteness of Infant, Adult and Cat Faces suggests our perceptions of cuteness relate to how much a thing reminds us of an infant, and nicely fits with the theory that our responses to cuteness are about motivating us to nurture our young.
So now along comes this new research, which throws an entirely new perspective on cuteness. Researchers performed a few studies. In one, they confirmed people have tendencies to make statements suggesting loss-of-control – not being able to handle how cute something is. People also talk about wanting to “squish”, squeeze or “grrrr” at cute things seen in pictures.
In another study the Yale researchers showed that these statements were a little more than just paradoxical verbal expressions of overwhelming cuteness. Participants who were given bubble-wrap to pop while viewing images were found to have popped significantly more bubbles when looking at pictures of cute things than when looking at pictures of funny or neutral things.
It is pretty clear that these seemingly almost aggressive impulses, present in ordinary people in the face of cuteness, do not translate to sinister actions in the real world. Have a read of the source article – Why We Go Crazy for Cute – to see some of the theories the researchers propose to explain this paradox.
At the very least, next time you’re challenged to a game of Operation, make sure to prep by looking at plenty of cute photos to give yourself that competitive edge. And maybe give your surgeon a book of kitten photos before your next surgery.
What do you think? Why the urge to pinch those cute little baby cheeks?