It's pretty normal to get the urge to squeeze something cute, and even to proclaim your desire to do so — but on further thought, this is actually kind of a weird and creepy response. Thankfully, science has figured out why people like to squeeze cute things and handle them sort of aggressively, and it actually has more to do with your inner states than with the cuteness of a kitten or baby or puppy per se. Humans are kind of emotionally volatile creatures, and we need ways to regulate our feelings. The squeezing impulse turns out to be one of them.
Researchers from Yale University investigated this squishing impulse using some experimental volunteers, photos of baby humans and animals, and bubble wrap (which was definitely harmed in the making of this study). As they published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers found that people popped more of the bubble wrap when exposed to cute stimuli (i.e. the photos), suggesting that the impulse to squeeze, pinch, and otherwise lightly harm the cute things is real.
So what's up? There doesn't seem to be much evolutionary purpose in wanting to hurt cute but vulnerable things, of course — they need tender loving care to thrive, not rough handling. Fortunately, these urges are not coming from a destructive place in the viewers, they're coming from a need to regulate the viewers' own emotions, and get their heads back on straight in the face of unbearable cuteness. Called "dimorphous expression," having a bit of a negative emotion alongside a positive one can help to even things out faster.
Moreover, the Yale researchers note that "individuals who express emotions in this dimorphous manner do so as a general response across a variety of emotionally provoking situations." This means that the people with the most superficially extreme and contradictory emotions may actually be the best at regulating them using this tool across the board. Crying when you're happy is also an example of dimorphous expression. Though it may make you look a little crazy, just know that you're actually the emotionally healthy one around here, OK? But maybe save your hardest squishing for your stuffed animals.
Image: littlemagic/Fotolia; Giphy