You know how you, or other people, look at your baby and say, “I just want to EAT THEM UP!” Why? “Cute aggression”!
If you’re totally confused right now, let me explain. This concept is something that many moms report experiencing — a feeling that they just want to pinch their baby’s chubby cheeks and gobble them up — but isn’t that sorta, um, violent?? Why do we look at babies and animals and wanna squeeze ‘em? Ouch!
Well, obviously we would never actually want to hurt our baby (or animals!) in any way. That goes without saying. But then, where does this feeling of being “aggressively overwhelmed with cuteness” come from? Why do so many people experience it? Is it part of our motherly instincts?
Turns out, yes, it is! Basically, we are wired as humans, and more so as mothers, to feel a protective, caregiving urge. And sometimes this emotion is so strong that it produces an “overload” in the brain!
And what does the brain do when it’s overloaded (with cuteness, or any other feeling?) It has to bring itself back to “normal.”
In the case of something being just too darn adorable, it makes us TOO happy! There is such a thing as too cute and too happy when it comes to our emotional regulation. Why? Why can’t we just be happy all the time?? Basically, because happiness also produces stress hormones!
In theory, if we were happy all the time, the overabundance of these hormones would have a huge, energy-draining toll on us over time. That’s why the “happy”/manic part of being bipolar is considered a big deal; it’s just not good for the brain to be that pumped-up.
So when our brain is overstimulated with an “OMG, that’s so cute!” response, it cancels out the effect with an equal-but-opposite, negative emotion. Aggression!! So that is why we pinch baby’s cheeks…but would never actually cause harm, either!
I still think it’s a pretty weird phenomenon, but you want to know what else I find interesting? The way that our brains are programmed to recognize baby-like features, and automatically want to care for that person or thing! As you might already know, we evolved to find big eyes and round faces as cute, because of course that’s what babies look like! That’s why we also want to take care of baby animals, or even made-up cartoons that are adorable! (But not spiders and scorpions…!)
If you want to know the exact science here, a region of our brain called the “mesocorticolimbic system” (the limbic system deals with emotions and memories) is what creates our sense of cuteness.
You may not be too surprised to learn that women tend to experience more of it than men: in a 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers did MRIs of moms and dads after showing them cute things. It turned out that women had more MRI activity (more dopamine in the mesocorticolimbic system) than men did.
I say this not to try and prove that moms are better than dads, but just because I find it so interesting how our brains evolved!!
The human mind is such a funny and incredible thing.
I sure never thought about how saying, “AWW, cute, I want to eat you up!!” could be the result of millions of years of fine-tuning evolution!
Well anyway, now that you know “cute aggression” doesn’t make you a bad or violent parent…you can get even more tips from me on thriving as a new mom!!
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