It may sound ominous but most babies gurgle with delight at these words.
Scrumptious, edible, delicious, possibly able to be gobbled up… Is your child delicious enough to eat? Have you ever wanted to do that very thing? Have you ever wondered why? Thumbs up to all three for me!
The vast majority of the world would not consider actually eating their or someone else’s child, yet every day, all around the globe, you can hear the admissions of those wanting to have a chomp! Aunts, grandmas, friends, pops, uncles, nannas, granddads, opas, omas, and of course mums especially are nuzzling and tickling babies while expressing their desire to ‘eat your fingies’ or ‘num, num, num’ a tiny foot or two.
So, if the thought of human flesh ingestion normally makes us want to puke, why are we so keen on pretending to do just that to cute as a button babies? Why is it possibly (apart from peek-a-boo) the greatest time-wasting game to play with rolly little chubba-bubs and how is it that it just naturally flies out of our mouths? Seems weird, but when faced with a drooling, soft-skinned cherub, we nearly all do it. Why?!!!
Are We Super Hungry?
No. We are not super hungry. But babies are super cute. So are puppies and kittens for that matter and I don’t care what you do or how tough you are, just face it, they are soooo yummy and squishy. In fact, sometimes, they are so adorable and lovable that our bodies and brains aren’t sure how to deal with such an onslaught of dramatic emotions. Our neurons kindly kick in and try to balance out this tidal wave of delight by urging us to do the opposite of nice. Biting down on something is pretty close to the opposite of nice in any language and nibbling toes and fingers off is also up there with the worst. Well played brain, well played.
Commonly named ‘cute aggression’, this behavior can help us regulate and control our emotions, especially the big crushing ones like baby love! We deal with our emotions in different ways. Sometimes we ignore them, bottle them, completely distract ourselves with another activity to allow us to squish the threatened explosion of emo-outburst or maybe we just own it like a Gwyneth acceptance speech and openly let them spill forth. Either way, you’re out of emotional whack.
Yale University psychology graduate Rebecca Dyer dubbed the phenomenon ‘cute aggression’ and explains that:
“We think it’s about high positive affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control,” she said. “It’s so adorable, it drives you crazy.”
So sometimes, it’s all a bit much for our sensitive bodies and we instinctively do the opposite expression from what we’re feeling to help balance us back out and find an even keel. Good to know there is scientific reasoning behind these slightly odd, but well-meaning impulses.
I guess there are other situations in our lives when we tend to naturally balance our positives and negatives, unaware that we are striving for the return of our equilibrium, for example:
- We laugh after a rant and cry
- We hug after a big argument (or drink, it’s all the same)
- We giggle like we’re drunk when awaiting stressful test results
Could I Become Hannibal Lector?
Probably not. This is just your brain’s way of protecting and supporting itself by not using up bucket loads of energy on an emotional spike by restoring harmony quickly.
Even when we attempt to scoff babies for a first course, because there is so much natural beauty in our face that it’s driving us nutballs, there is almost zero risk that you’ll ever hurt them. Not intentionally, anyway. Squeezing (babies, puppies and kittens alike) is a normal response to giddy-high feelings you get from crazy cute bubs, especially when you’re trying to get as close as you can, without actually swallowing body parts.
Think how many times you’ve cradled little feet in the palm of your hand and cooed ‘I’ve got your toes, I’ve got your toes, I eat them up, yes I will, yummy, yummy, mummy wuvs your tootsies, they’re so delicious’. You never once actually ate a part of your child, did you? Safe to say you never will.
Writer Gaby Dunn has enlightened me to a range of cards from a company called ‘Uncooked’, which tap into cute aggression directed at other targets of our affections. I cringed at the thought of a message of love to my husband inferring that I would like to chew his derishous toes right off his nummy nummy feet (derishious or nummy, I don’t imagine they would be), but I was way off. The cards are hilarious!
They run along the lines of ‘you’re so cute I want to yank off your head, stick it in a jar and keep it next to my computer’ and ‘I love your face so much I want to rip it off and nail it to my wall so I can look at it whenever I want’. My personal fave is ‘I love you so much I want to throw up all over my legs’. Gold, I tell you.
That’s the kind of card I’d be happy to sign my name to next birthday!
It seems we all might be suffering from a bit of cute aggression. I was always sure I wasn’t the only whacko and at least I know now it’s not even something I can help doing. Cheers investigative psychology studies!