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Have you ever noticed that seeing a cute baby or animal can trigger feelings of mild aggression?

Maybe you want to pinch the baby’s cheeks, or hug that fluffy animal really hard. But it’s common for people to feel a desire to clench something tightly when it pleases our eye. So what gives?

Fortunately, science can now explain this bizarre phenomenon, thanks to a recent study out of Yale University.

“Extremely positive experiences, and positive appraisals thereof, produce intense positive emotions that often generate both positive expressions (e.g., smiles) and expressions normatively reserved for negative emotions (e.g., tears),” researchers wrote.

Essentially, what you’re feeling is your brain trying to bounce yourself back into emotional equilibrium, according to the study. You’re literally experiencing a case of “cuteness overload”, where your internal hard-wiring begins to scramble to get you back into proper balance. These effects aren’t only limited to cute things, either, we experience it all the time. Just think about tears of joy or nervous laughter–it’s all part of your body’s way of coping with a sudden influx of emotion.

Evolutionarily speaking, this is a beneficial quality. The extreme positive emotions a parent feels when looking at their own baby, for example, may be balanced out by their desire to pinch the child’s cheeks. You snap out of la-la land and back into parenting mode, basically.

To make sure you know exactly what we mean though, we’ve prepared a list of adorable images. Check them out and see how aggressive you start to feel (we already took the liberty of writing our own thoughts):

Fig 1. Dog getting a head massage

Cuteness factor: 2
Massage
“Aww. I just want to hug his widdle body!”

Fig. 2 Baby making funny faces

Cuteness factor: 4
Baby
Fist…clenching…against will.

Fig. 3 Bunny loves baths

Cuteness factor: 6
Bunny
I could just yank those adorable ears right out of its head…

Fig. 4 Gorilla and kitten BFFs

Cuteness factor: 8
Gorilla
Get me a fork and knife, because I could EAT that gorilla. Gobble that furry guy all up. Aww!

Fig. 5 A cautious slow loris

Cuteness factor: 10
Slow loris
I’M GOING TO SUCK ITS EYES OUT OF ITS FACE WITH A STRAW AND THEN CLENCH THEM UNTIL THEY BURST.

Whoa. Okay, see what we mean? Cute images = aggressive thoughts. Fortunately, researchers don’t think they’re actually correlated with aggressive behaviour.

Which is great, because those cheeks look like they could use a good pinching.

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