If you grew up watching Tiny Toon Adventures, you may remember Elmyra Duff, the animal strangler. Captivated by cuteness, she goes around impulsively (and obliviously) smothering small, furry creatures, like so:
Nowadays, we understand Elmyra to be the embodiment of “cute aggression,” the overwhelming urge to forcefully squeeze puppies, babies and other excessively adorable things.
Spurred by actor Leslie Bibb publicly telling Conan O’Brien that she felt inclined to punch smol dogs and cute babies, Clemson University researcher Oriana Aragón discovered and coined the term “cute aggression” during a 2015 Yale University behavioral study. She estimates that somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of the population experience the urge to smother adorable objects, and says some cultures even have their own words for the phenomenon: In Filipino, gigil refers to the gritting of teeth in response to something unbearably cute, and in Indonesian, the word gemas indicates pent-up feelings when coming across adorable things.
• Read next: Do Puppies Have a Version of ‘New Baby Smell’?
Cute aggression can be expressed in many ways. For instance, Aragón says Americans often pout and say, “Aww!” — what would normally be a negative reaction — in response to overly cute things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. One could also take the (not recommended) Leslie Bibb approach and scream something along the lines of, “I want to punch your adorable dog, sir!” If you go that route, just be prepared to not be allowed around dogs, ever.
There are a couple of theories as to why we experience cute aggression. Neurologically, a 2018 study suggests that the feeling may have emerged as a regulating response, or a way to prevent us from being utterly incapacitated by our intense positive feelings toward adorable things. Being paralyzed by cuteness is indeed a thing and may otherwise prevent us from appropriately caring for our babies if we have no way of leveling out those emotions with something more negative, like aggression. Without cute aggression, then, we may just sit around drooling over every ultra cute thing in our lives.
Another theory is that the ways in which we express cute aggression — clenching fists, hopping in place and screaming “aww!” — act as strong forms of communication, essentially signaling “incoming!” to babies and mothers. “It just sends really nice, clear signals of how you’re going to interact with the baby,” Aragón says. Because babies often require multiple caretakers — “Human babies are so needy,” Aragón adds — these manifestations of cute aggression may serve to warn everyone around that you intend to squeeze them (which may or may not be well received).
While any form of aggression toward babies, even well-intentioned, could be seen as dangerous and perhaps even psychopathic, Aragón assures me that cute aggression is in no way negative. In fact, she says, if anything, it serves as a reminder of how fragile babies and other cute things are — when most of us experience cute aggression, we think something like, “I just wish I could squeeze you to death,” but we know in our heads that actually doing that would be a huge no-no.
Glad to learn I’m not completely insane for wanting to smoosh my dog. C’mere, boy!