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'Cute Aggression' Study Links Adorable Animal Photos, Aggressive Behavior

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Looking at cute animals photos at work may help increase productivity, but a new study finds that adorable images may also bring out aggressive behavior.

Presenting their findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference on Jan. 18, researchers linked cuteness with aggressive tendencies and labeled the behavior "cute aggression," LiveScience reported from the event.

Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer, graduate psychology students at Yale University, led the research that found a connection between photos of adorable pets and the desire to squish or squeeze the fluffy critters, the way a grandmother might squeeze a baby's cheeks.

"It's everywhere," Aragon told The Huffington Post, citing examples of Google's auto-complete for the search phrase "so cute I could..."

"So cute I could... die, eat you up, kill you, maul you," Aragon continued. "It's just all this violence."

While the Filipino word "gigil" describes the urge to pinch something because it is cute, Aragon told HuffPost there is no English equivalent.

For the study, the researchers recruited 109 participants online and instructed them to look at "cute," "funny" and "neutral" animal photos. (A "cute" photo, for example, might show a playful puppy with its tongue out; a "neutral" photo might show an older pet with a less playful look.) Writes LiveScience, "The participants rated the pictures on cuteness and funniness, as well as on how much they felt the pictures made them lose control."

(For those wondering whether "cuteness" can be measured scientifically, it apparently can. Independent research on what makes something "cute" has pinpointed the cuteness factor in subjects with big eyes, big cheeks and a big forehead, NBC's "Today" show reported in 2012. That's why baby pandas are thought to be one of the most adorable creatures on the planet.)

According to the results of the recent study, photos of cute animals tended to make participants feel a desire to squeeze that animal. Some participants even experienced a loss of control -- that is, a participant finds an animal is so cute that he or she "can't handle it."

Aragon and Dyer backed up their results with a second study, in which participants viewed similar slideshows in the laboratory while popping bubble wrap. Sure enough, the 90 men and women participants popped more bubbles on average while looking at cute photos than they did while viewing funny and neutral images.

Past research, however, led to conclusions far different from Dyer's findings. Live Science reported in September 2012 that Japanese researcher Hiroshi Nittono, who conducted the study on adorable photos and productivity in the workplace, noted that images of cute creatures tend to stir positive feelings, rather than negative emotions of aggression.

Nevertheless, Aragon's and Dyer's work suggests that cute photos incite a kind of aggression, even though such behavior may be more of an over-emotional reaction than a violent reaction.

Take Kristen Bell's sloth meltdown, for example, a video Aragon often shows when presenting the research. Though the actress is "obviously happy," she may be "using negative emotion to regulate herself back down," Aragon said. This concept of a "general mechanism" -- also exhibited by soccer players who cry after winning the World Cup -- is one of a few working theories Aragon and Dyer have tested during their experiments.

The study is being submitted for publication, Aragon told HuffPost.

(h/t Death and Taxes)

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