On the eating of baby feet...

Werewolf attack, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1512 Wikimedia Commons

Julie and I have never advocated the eating of babies, no matter how hard Chris Evans sells the idea in "Snowpiercer." But we did record a video about dimorphous expressions: negative reactions that emerge from an overwhelming positive emotion. Examples of this, according to Psychologist Oriana Aragon, include feeling so happy that you burst into tears and feeling the urge to bite/pinch a baby/cat/puppy because it's overpoweringly cute.

I think it's a very straight-forward idea. I've seen grandparents do this and I've felt the weird urge myself. As brought to our attention by user RammyTV, there's even a word for this in the Tagalog language of the Philippians: "gigil," the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.

But man, we sure have received a lot of comments from people who insist such a notion is alien and horrifying -- even going so far as to suggest we're monsters for even bringing it up. I also discuss the issue in my post "Art Spotlight: Saturn Devouring His Son," relating the following:

Yale Psychologist Oriana Aragon devotes much of her work to human emotional connections, including the negative reactions that emerge from an overwhelming positive emotion - something she calls a "dimorphous expression." You love the baby so much, you want to bite it. You're so happy, you burst into tears. In a 2014 study, Aragon and her team presented participants with images of babies, some more infantile than others. They charted their emotional responses to each image, as well as the duration of the emotional charge.They found that test subjects who showed more bitey, pinchy aggression when looking at a cute baby also showed a larger drop-off in positive emotion five minutes later. Aragon suggests that dimorphous expressions may be a way of re-balancing the scales, normalizing after an intense dose of the cute.That 5-minute drop, therefore, seems to demonstrate how negative emotions allow us to moderate intense positive emotions and restore us to balance - thus preventing a true cute overload of explosive proportions.

It's not at all a situation of cannibalism, though you do see examples of filial cannibalism throughout the animal kingdom. As we discuss in our podcast episode "Fine Young Animal Cannibals," this is simply a matter of amoral economics.

Here's the video, if you'd like to watch it for yourself:


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.