When my son was a baby, a cashier at a craft store looked at him and said, “I want to squeeze you like a packet of ketchup!” I was taken aback by such an aggressive statement, but we’ve probably all said weird things to kids and puppies like, “I want to eat you up!” or “Nom, nom, nom!” Why do we threaten to bite things we find adorable?
It’s called “cute aggression,” when our brain is basically overtaken by something cute to the point where it hits the eject button and we want to destroy it. That overcompensation is our brain’s way of getting back to neutral after going from one extreme to the other. From a survival standpoint, we can’t be frozen and fixated on our scrumptious young or squooshy pets, so it helps us move forward and balance things out. The more appealing something is, the stronger our response.
The phenomenon was identified in 2015 by Oriana R. Aragón, Margaret S. Clark, Rebecca L. Dyer and John A. Bargh in Psychological Magazine. In their paper titled "Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion," they noticed positive experiences produce positive emotions that are expressed by both positive reactions, like smiles, and negative, like crying. When interacting with babies, people do seemingly angry things like pinching cheeks or gritting their teeth. They called it “playful aggression.” No harm is meant or actually committed, but you might have a slight urge to nibble those toes.
You have little control over theses feelings as they are hormonal responses that start in your brain. When you have good feelings, feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are released, as well as stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. This helps us keep our feelings under control. Think of it as a healthy response and not as troubling as it sounds.
So, the next time you have the urge to sink your teeth into the doughy rolls of a chubby baby or give a fluffy puppy a gentle squeeze, know that you’re not weird -- you’re just doing what your body has been trained to do after thousands of years of evolution.
TL;DR -- It’s OK to want to bite babies because it’s your brain’s way of resetting itself. Just don’t actually bite a baby, even if her arm resembles a delicious cinnamon roll. A little squish is OK though.