Teh Science of Teh Cute

Anyone that spends time on the internet realizes pretty quickly that there is an inordinate proportion of it is dedicated to pictures of baby animals. Why? Who knows why? But clearly, there are a lot of people that like to look at pictures of cute animals. Most people, I think, would view them as harmless time-wasters.

Pretty Cute

But wait – just maybe there’s more to it. An article published last week by PLoS One (PLoS stands for Public Library of Science) suggests that people who view pictures of cute and baby animals are more focused and successful at certain subsequent tasks.

A research group in Japan tested the fine motor dexterity of young adults (essentially asking them to play the game Operation) both before and after viewing pictures of either baby animals (cute) or adult animals (apparently not cute). People that had viewed the cute baby animals had both higher scores and completed the task more quickly than those that didn’t.

The “Operation” Experiment

Similar results were also found when people were asked to do a visual (non-motor) seek-n-find before and after viewing baby animals (cute), adult animals (non-cute) or that other huge internet time-killer, food porn. Here again, viewing baby animals was the clear way to improve the quality of your visual analytical skills (or perhaps that should be “skillz” at this point). Sorry, Top Chef aficionados, your succulent food images were no match for the subliminal power of baby animals.

Visual Skillz Are Better

Sadly, not all tasks were improved by viewing baby animals. A different visual recognition experiment showed no real changes in any group. Though you gotta admit, two outta three ain’t bad, right?

Now Get To Work!

How could kittens and bunnies sharpen our attention and focus? I don’t know, but clearly more research needs to be done and I don’t think there will be any shortage of volunteers for the trials. Just remember, the next time you catch your surgeon, electrician or – ummm – biotechnology researcher checking out baby animals, they’re not wasting time, their honing their attention for the next task at hand!

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36 thoughts on “Teh Science of Teh Cute

  1. Aw, science! ;)

    I wrote a paper as an undergrad for a media class – apparently being photographed with an animal makes people rate you as more kind, smart and successful. I don’t remember where I saw the study but I could try to dig it up.

    Did they measure the participant’s blood pressure? I wonder if it goes down from not just petting animals but also viewing them.

    • This is why I should endeavor to make sure that I always have Penny with me when people take my picture! :) I can only imagine that BP was down and endorphins were up after seeing cute bunnies.

  2. I would imagine viewing pictures of baby people would show similar results, which may linked to a need for increased attention to subtle nuances when caring for an infant. It is true that mothers of infants become rather good at telling which cry means hungry and which cry means tired, etc. (although I think every mom can think of times they were stumped, too!).

    • Our company has decided to forego cancer and reproductive disorders to understand the incredible cuteness of baby rabbits. I actually had a hard time finding a “cute” picture that WASN’T a baby rabbit.

  3. I admit, this was interesting, even without the cute animal pictures. That said, I think I would perform worse after viewing the cute baby animal pictures IF the misspelled words accompanied the photo. The cat thing grates on my nerves. Seeing as I am more a dog person, it probably comes as no surprise.

  4. Oh no, Steve is using Cheezburger speak! :D

    I guess I should waste more time on the innerwebs looking at cute baby animal pictures, as if I don’t do it enough now. ;-) But I wonder if amelie is on to something: does looking at these sort of pictures make us more relaxed and hence better able to perform at fine motor skills or visual acuity tests? Looking at food porn would throw off my concentration, because I often start to feel hungry or get a craving for whatever I’m looking at (brownies, pizza, cupcakes, etc.). Adult animals—that would depend. Looking at a soulful-eyed golden retriever or collie would relax me. A grimacing alligator or snapping turtle, not so much.

    • HG — I was actually thinking about this a little this afternoon after I wrote it and wondered if it had something to do with being in a good mood — and that if you’re feeling good, that you’ll do you’re next task with a better attitude. Certainly, longing for food might distract me. I also think animals of all sorts are beautiful — in their own way, for sure — but maybe everyone doesn’t feel that way. I mean, baby bunnies are pretty hard to beat…

      • Why Giraffes? just curious? Interesting post. I do fundraising in my day job and there is also research out there about putting pictures of cute babies and animals to get people to open up their direct mail appeal letters. Definitely something to this.

        • I just think giraffes are really cool. I spend a lot of time with them at the Zoo and Wild Animal Park. I would definitely be inclined to open up mail that had baby animals on it… :)

  5. I believe the harmonic resonance in the “Ahhh…” response solicited by baby animal images creates a feedback loop in the serotonin space/time continuum…. er … kin I sees dat bunny agin?

  6. I have three kitties glaring at me (because they can’t see you) that want to know just who the genius that decided baby animals are cuter than adult animals …

    But they ought to be used to it. When our digital picture frame flips to a photo of Smokey as a kitten I always comment about how it’s from when he used to be cute. “Big-ol-watermellon” heads may have something to do with that.

  7. I can email a kittie video around the office, and the sighs of relief are almost palpable.

    The cute is Powerful. Will it end all Wars? Hard to say. But it certainly will make Angry People think twice before acting.

    Certainly, if I see a dog or cat on my walk home I will smile, no matter how hideous my day was. And that is Power.

    • Aubrey — when we’re out with Penny, I see a lot of people just smile at her as they get near. I think she has a friendly face that just makes people happy. I like it that she does that. I know that I always take a minutes to say hello to other peoples’ pups too if they say it’s okay.

  8. In the big debate of nature vs. nurture, improved innovation, creativity and productivity after looking at pictures of cute baby animals prove it’s in our nature to nurture.

  9. Pingback: Puppy Party Poll | Stevil

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