Looking at cute photos, such as Discovery News images of baby animals, helps to improve concentration, a study in the journal PLoS has found.
If you are working on your computer, such as tackling a school paper or business project, taking a break to look at such photos might then benefit you. (Try Animal Planet's "kitten cam.")
"For future applications, cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work," wrote Hiroshi Nittono of Hiroshima University and his colleagues.
But what is cuteness anyway, and is it universal to all human viewers?
To figure that out, Nittono and his team had both male and female participants look at a bunch of images. Rated cutest were photos of puppies and kittens. Corresponding images of adult dogs and cats were not as kawaii (the Japanese word for cute).
Participants next played an Operation-type surgery game. Those who were exposed to photos of baby animals scored higher and finished faster.
Another experiment involved having participants count how many times a certain number appeared in a random series of numbers. They also had to identify what letter appeared in a shape next to the number series. Once again, those who saw the baby critter pics were much speedier and more accurate.
Yet another experiment asked test subjects to identify a letter flashed quickly on a computer screen. In this case, viewing the baby images provided no boost.
Further, throughout the test, "viewing images of pleasant foods was ineffective in improving performance." So we're back to the power of cute, with living cute things creating the biggest punch.
As for why: "This is interpreted as the result of a narrowed attentional focus induced by the cuteness-triggered positive emotion that is associated with approach motivation and the tendency toward systematic processing," the researchers wrote.
My guess is that it's tied to both men and women being hard-wired to respond to babies and baby-like features. We likely have more bias when looking at photos of human babies, so the scientists wisely stuck with non-human animals. Cuteness captures our attention and improves concentration as a result.
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