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January 24, 2013

Study: The Cute, It Does In Fact Burn

A study (almost certainly paid for by you, so you might as well hear about what you bought) finds that overly-cute images cause rage.

Dyer said she and her colleagues arenít yet sure why cuteness seems to trigger expressions of aggression, even relatively harmless ones. Itís possible that seeing a wide-eyed baby or roly-poly pup triggers our drive to care for that creature, Dyer said. But since the animal is just a picture, and since even in real life we might not be able to care for the creature as much as we want, this urge may be frustrated, she said. That frustration could lead to aggression.

[...]

Or the reason might not be specific to cuteness, Dyer said. Many overwhelmingly positive emotions look negative, as when Miss America sobs while receiving her crown. Such high levels of positive emotion may overwhelm people.

My guess would be simpler: People do not like to feel they are being manipulated and super-cute images are designed to be an easy-peasey lay-up of manipulation. See the cute puppy, say "Aaah."

People can of course be manipulated, and will even pay to be manipulated (Hollywood is built on this principle), but when the manipulation becomes obvious, people react negatively.

Thus, people will celebrate a film for being "moving" -- by which they mean the film successfully manipulated their emotions -- and scorn another movie for being "manipulative and cloying." And what they mean by the latter is simply, "I detected the machinery of manipulation, and I was offended by it."

In cute pictures, the gears of manipulation are right up front and out in the open.

Okay, I like cuteness some, but now I am sort of feeling angry. The shoe is too much.

I think this happens with pets and children, both of whom use Cuteness to get what they want. When you don't detect their agenda, it's adorable.

But the second you realize a kid -- or a dog -- is just being Cute to get a Treat, suddenly it's not adorable. You feel snookered.


(By the way, I just realized how much you guys indulge me by letting me literally write whatever pops into my stupid head. I tend to forget this a lot, and forget how much you do indulge me, and forget how lucky I am to be able to do this job. So now that you've indulged me twice in a row I'll try to find something more political.)

Thanks to @harrietbaldwin.

Actually... This same reaction explains positive and negative reactions to the same political speech. Friendly partisans want to be "moved" and buy into all of the manipulative content in the first place; whereas unfriendly partisans aren't in the mood to be moved, and, more importantly, don't make the buy-in into all the manipulative catchphrases and rhetorical equivalencies.

The unfriendly partisan sees it as what it is-- a piece of craft designed to elicit as specific response, not much different from a simple con -- and feels hostility towards it.


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posted by Ace at 03:12 PM

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