Why Do We Want to Squeeze Cute Kittens?

The most important point that I would like to make is that I do not believe, nor do I have evidence, that people actually want to hurt cute things. My research was spurred on when I witnessed very playful responses to cute things. I saw how people seemed to want to squeeze and pinch cute things (i.e. Grandma pinching cheeks), and I thought—if you take that out of context, if you look at it at face value—it is a bit odd to want to pinch or squeeze something that is very cute. I was curious “why” someone would, for instance, want to squeeze cute kittens.

So far, we have not tested that very question because the most responsible thing to do as a researcher, I thought, was to first test “if” people want to squeeze and pinch adorably cute things. Then, if indeed we do, the second step would be to try to figure out “why.”

Therefore, this first set of studies is simply what we call descriptive research. We were trying to put data to the hypothesis that people will want to squeeze, pinch, and say “Grrr!” when they see cute things. We first did this by directly asking people if they wanted to squeeze or say “Grrr!” while viewing cute stimuli, and found that they do. But self-reports are what people say they want to do; I wanted to capture what people actually do.

So we went at the question again with a behavioral study. I tried to think of various ways to capture a squeezing or pinching behavior while people were viewing cute stimuli. The only thing that came to mind was bubble wrap. That way, people could pinch the bubbles while watching photos of cute animals (or control images of funny animals or adult less-cute animals) and after they finished the experiment, there would be a way of knowing how much they pinched. The hypothesis was: If individuals have a tendency to pinch or squeeze when they see cute things, and we give them something to pinch and squeeze while viewing cute things, they should do it—and we would know that they did from the resulting popped bubbles. Again, we found support for the idea that people pinch when they view cute things.

Next steps will be working on the “why” part of the question … stay tuned!

Oriana Aragón is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Yale University.

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