Cute kittens, chubby baby cheeks and elderly people eating ice cream — these things elicit a primal response from us. Sighs of "Awww!" and gushes of gooey compliments proceed after coming in contact with, or just seeing a photo of, something adorable.
But there's another innate response one can have when subjected to things that are overly cute — even though it might not be as socially acceptable.
"Cute aggression is a term that describes a fleeting thought or the urge to squeeze, bite or crush cute things, such as a baby or puppy," Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno explains to Refinery29 Australia.
The term was coined back in 2015 by Yale University researchers to describe the phenomenon where someone is overcome with positive emotion and their superficially aggressive response becomes a way to gain control of their feelings.
"Some concertgoers scream as if in horror in the presence of their teen idol, and some people playfully growl and express their desire to pinch a baby’s cheeks," the researchers remarked. "A point has been reached at which their emotions have become unmanageable."
While cute critters and infants are usually the catalysts for cute aggression, your own, grown-up loved ones can also induce this fleeting feeling. On TikTok, creators are sharing their love language of cute affection. Whether that's through biting or shaking their partner, many are saying that it's a behaviour that can't be helped.
Is this dangerous? Does cute aggression go against all our talk about the importance of consent in a relationship? A comment on one of these videos read, "just watch all the abusive partners claim this."
"Any dangerous, physical behaviour needs to be treated seriously (and should never be defined as cute aggression)," says Sokarno. "Experts do not believe that cute aggression can make a person lose control and act on their aggressive feelings."
The fleetingness is what makes cute aggression what it is, rather than something that can lead to dangerous interactions. "It is a superficially aggressive behaviour that has no real desire to cause any harm (rather it is an involuntary fleeting thought or urge that goes away)," she continues.
"There’s a difference between cute aggression and the act of voluntarily substituting emotions. My advice is that it’s always important to process all of the emotions that you’re actually feeling (rather than hiding behind a different emotion, or masking what you’re feeling). While it might work in the short term, all that emotion gets stored somewhere and it’s likely that you’ll need to deal with it at some point," she says.
"A better way to deal with emotions is to allow yourself to feel those emotions, to work through them and learn how to cope, react or respond to how you’re feeling. While our emotions can sometimes feel a little uncontrollable, we can learn to control how we respond."