If your first reaction to porgs, the big-eyed animals that recently debuted in The Last Jedi, was that you want to eat their adorable little faces, you’re not alone—and not just because Chewbecca tries to have one for dinner in the new film.
Star Wars fans have been talking about cooking and eating these puffin-seal-pug creatures since their appearance in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, and the movie’s release has only heightened this terrible hunger. Even the film’s stars have weighed in on the issue: Laura Dern came out against porg-eating, while Oscar Isaac is vocally in favor. Various websites have pondered not just the ethics of porg consumption, but exactly what a porg would taste like; some have even created menus of “all the delicious, versatile ways you can cook and eat a porg.”
Although many of these responses are probably tongue-in-cheek, they may have their origin in a real psychological phenomenon.
As Professor Oriana R. Aragón explained in her co-authored paper, “Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli,” people’s responses to very cute things may sometimes be so overwhelming that they inspire a “playful aggression.” That’s why people often react to babies by mouthing their bellies or toes, and making comments like “I could eat you up!”
“There is a strong response to cuteness that involves the suggestion of eating the cute being,” Aragón told The Verge. She also found that this phenomenon is cross-cultural, and that numerous languages, including Bahasa Indonesian, Dutch, French, Greek, and Vietnamese, include expressions about something (or someone) being so cute that the speaker wants to bite or eat it.
Although saying you want to eat things you love and want to protect might seem odd, Aragón’s study suggests that negative expressions like this could be a way of counteracting extreme positive feelings and restoring emotional equilibrium. It’s the reverse of laughing nervously in a bad situation.
She thinks the widespread desire to eat porgs may have its origin in that same kind of “cute aggression.” “My guess would be that people are… playing on that initial impulse to exclaim something about wanting to eat [them up], and taking that impulse to the next step for effect,” says Aragón. “I do not think people are actually wishing that this is a new source of protein.”
While some would-be chefs are probably more serious than others about their fantasies of slathering porgs in butter and garlic, the rest of us can take comfort in knowing we aren’t necessarily monsters for wanting to gnaw a little on a porg; we’re just regulating our emotions. Or if we are monsters, at least we aren’t alone. Even porgs may want to eat porgs!