Words like “grandma” and “aggression” don’t seem to go together.
But when grandma reaches out and pinches your cheek so hard it brings tears to your eyes, it can make you think they may not be so far apart after all.
Plus, why does she always do that?
These days, psychologists may say that grandma may have something called “cute aggression.”
She’s not alone. There are a whole lot of people who squeeze, pinch, and even think about biting kids, babies, kittens, puppies and other overwhelmingly cute little things.
In a nutshell, cute aggression is an involuntary coping mechanism used by some people to come down from a cuteness overload. Cute aggression was described several years ago by a group of researchers at Yale University; it’s an involuntary response to being overwhelmed by cuteness.
According to Katherine Stavropoulos, a psychologist in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, people who experience cute aggression don’t want to harm you. In fact, after an incident they feel mystified and embarrassed.
Stavropoulos and UC Riverside intern Laura Alba conducted the first-ever study on cute aggression and published the results in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. They recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 people ages 18–40 as they looked at images of animals and people. Some photos were manipulated so the subjects appeared not as cute; others were made to look extra adorable. The entire group showed greater brain activity when shown the photos manipulated for extra cuteness. Stavropoulos said they found the more cute aggression a person felt, the more activity researchers saw in his or her brain’s reward system.
When this happens to people who experience cute aggression, both the positive and negative centers in the brain power up: the person gets overstimulated, and the brain starts producing aggressive thoughts in order to get a handle on a positive high gone rogue.
It goes without saying that if someone is going over the line and actually squishing or hurting something or someone cute, they should consider seeing a counselor or therapist, but at least now you know where grandma’s coming from.
Although it still doesn’t tell you how to get that sting out of your cheeks.