Cat videos are the prototypical example of wasted on-the-job time. Only goof-offs and slackers waste worktime surfing YouTube for videos of kittens wearing hats or puppies meeting piglets, right?
Believe it or not, a study run by four Japanese researchers found that looking at videos or pictures of cute animals may actually help make you more focused and more careful when completing tasks that require deliberateness and precision. Here's what you need to know.
- The set up: Researchers asked a group of students to play a game similar to Operation. With tweezers, each study participant would remove tiny plastic toys from holes on a game board made to look like a patient's body without touching the sides of the holes with the tweezers. Students were instructed to spend as much time as they needed to obtain the best possible score.
- The twist: Before playing the game, half the students were shown extremely cute pictures of baby animals. The other students viewed pictures of adult animals (also cute, but not nearly as furry/fuzzy/huggable as the baby animals).
- The findings: Participants who looked at cute animals scored higher and worked more deliberately than participants who viewed photos of adult animals. Researchers ran two additional experiments with slightly different study designs, both of which confirmed their initial conclusions: seeing cute animals improves focus and carefulness on subsequent tasks.
The Science of Cute
Why in the world would this be true? How can cute animals boost our focus and make us more careful? Isn't this just another "interesting, but probably unreliable" bit of social science research?
Nope. There's actually some pretty strong evolutionary theory behind the cuteness/carefulness effect.
As a species, we're programmed to respond attentively to certain physical features common in human babies (e.g. big head, high forehead, large eyes, button nose, small mouth). That's because over the course of our evolution, parents who appreciated these features spent more time parenting their babies. Because of this, these babies were more likely to survive to adulthood and therefore more likely to pass that cuteness/attention trait along.
Gradually, the love of cuteness spread through the entire human gene pool. That's why most people have a similar response to traditionally infantile features: attentiveness.
Viewing cute animals puts the brain in a careful, focused mindset. Because of our evolutionary history, we're more likely to be careful and deliberate after seeing something cute. And you can harness that impulse to boost your productivity.
So, if you're working on a task that requires focus and care, taking a gander at a picture of puppies with party hats or a video of kittens in Kleenex boxes may help trick your brain into sharpening its attentional facilities.
Bootstrapping your evolutionary coding by watching cute videos? That's one of the most enjoyable productivity hacks I've ever suggested!