Why do I want to squeeze that puppy?: Exploring the science behind our dark sides

Why do I want to squeeze that puppy?: Exploring the science behind our dark sides
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Dont worry; its not a sign that youre a sadist. According to psychologist Dr. Julia Shaw, its a perfectly normal human reaction, and doesnt mean youve got dark thoughts hiding in the depths of your mind.

Its actually called a dimorphous display of emotion, Shaw, whos known for her work in criminal psychology, told CTVs Your Morning. When you feel one emotion very strongly your brain pumps out the opposite feeling to make sure your brain doesnt overload.

Its the same process that makes people cry at happy events like weddings or laugh at sad events like funerals, she says.

The phenomenon has long been theorized, but a study released in December of 2018 was the first to find a neural basis for the reaction.

The studys authors theorize that the reaction is a bottom-up mechanism and is a way of regulating positive emotions, keeping people from being so overwhelmed by an infants cuteness that they begin to neglect caring for it.

Instead, when confronted with cuteness, some people start to feel an urge to squeeze, crush, or bite the cute thing, though without the intent to cause harm.

Its one of the behaviours that Shaw touches on in her new book, Evil: The Science behind Humanitys Dark Side, as she explores the dark side of the human mind.

From true crime documentaries to horror movies to reading about serial killers, people have always had a fascination with the darker side of humanity.

Rather than being a moral deficiency, or something to be ashamed of, Shaw says that exploring the dark side of our nature is a natural process that human beings go through.

Shaw says that people have a tendency to separate us and them, comparing themselves to others to strengthen their self-image that they are a good person.

Looking at serial killers, its like the ultimate example of a bad person, Shaw said.

But Shaw warns that people need to be careful, as that comparison act can not only be dehumanizing, but also leave people feeling too assured in their goodness.

We need to be careful that were not creating artificial boundaries, Shaw said, because I think were all capable of much more than we let on.

From small acts of passive aggression to full blown murder fantasies (which she says are far more common than people are willing to admit), Shaw says that all humans have dark thoughts lingering in their brain.

Its something that makes trying to define the nebulous concept of evil significantly more difficult.

Shaw argues that there is no such thing as objective evil, but rather that humans make evil when we label something as such.

I think that we all have our different notions as to what evil means and who or what behavior we would label evil, Shaw said.

What some people consider normal, others might find abhorrent. Acts like sex before marriage or eating meat may be perfectly acceptable to some, but can represent a severe moral failing to others.

Even acts like killing can be difficult to pin down, with groups like the Irish Republican Army being terrorists to some and freedom fighters to others.

That fact makes it important that people try to exercise evil empathy Shaw says.

Rather than simply condemning things as evil and shutting down the conversation, people are better off trying to think critically about why people do things.

In turbulent times, with everything from online trolls to neo-nazis weighing heavily on the minds of society, Shaw says that its important to try to understand why people take the actions they do.

Its far more constructive than writing someone off as evil, Shaw says, because then they stop seeing the person as a person.
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