The Power of Cute Things to Make You Feel Better

We all need a well-being boost. Pictures of cute things can help.

Posted Apr 22, 2020

Jen Golbeck
You are improving your work performance just by looking at this image
Source: Jen Golbeck

We're all in a time where our well-being could use a boost. But from the confines of our homes, we are restricted in where we can seek it out. Fortunately, research shows that looking at pictures of cute things can help. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing both research and cute things to help you learn more about this, to understand the psychology, and to feel better.

Let's start with a great 2012 article by Nittono et al.: "The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus."

Kawaii is a Japanese word for "cute." In this work, "cuteness" was measured by how much something looked baby-like: "a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth."

Researchers in this study wanted to know not just if pictures of cute things made people feel better, but if they actually improved performance in certain tasks. They began by showing people pictures of animals. Some subjects saw baby animals (the "cute" condition) and others saw pictures of adult animals (less "cute"). Subjects spent a few minutes sorting and ranking the images. 

Then, they had to perform tasks that required manual dexterity, similar to playing the game Operation, or that required focus. The researchers found significantly better performance among people who had first viewed cute animals, as compared to those in other groups. 

The practical implications of this research indicate that performance may improve in situations like work or driving if people are given access to cute images. 

So while you're working from home, don't feel bad if you take a quick break to look at puppies on Instagram: Science says you're taking a positive step to improve your performance.

Facebook image: Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock

References

Hiroshi Nittono, Michiko Fukushima, Akihiro Yano, and Hiroki Moriya. 2012. The power of kawaii: Viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus. PloS one 7, 9 (2012), e46362.