Looking at pictures of cute baby animals can not only put us in a better mood, but it can improve attention and concentration skills as well, according to a new study by psychological scientists at Hiroshima University in Japan.
Research has long shown that we are predisposed to respond to “cute” baby-like features, such as a large head, a high forehead, and large eyes, known as the “baby schema.” This particular look can activate a number of innate reactions in people, including smiling and nurturing behavior, but research suggests that cute images may also have an impact on attention and perception.
For the study, the researchers conducted three experiments with 132 university students. They found that participants who looked at cute images of puppies and kittens subsequently performed better on detail-oriented tasks requiring concentration.
In the first experiment, 48 college students were asked to play a game similar to the children’s game “Operation.”
The participants used tweezers to pinch and remove tiny plastic body parts from holes in the body of a “patient” without touching the sides of the holes. After playing one round, half of the students were shown seven images of cute puppies and kittens while the other half were shown pictures of adult dogs and cats.
The participants who had viewed pictures of cute baby animals significantly improved their performance on the second round. In fact, they seemed to work on the task in a slower, more deliberate pace. The performance of those who had viewed photos of adult animals remained the same, however.
“This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus,” said lead researcher Hiroshi Nittono and colleagues.
Viewing cute images may also improve a person’s focus on details. In a timed experiment, participants were asked to identify a series of stimuli displayed on a screen.
Each stimulus was a larger letter composed of different, smaller letters. For example, a series of tiny Fs might compose the shape of a large letter H.
Between each task, participants were randomly shown images of either baby animals, adult animals, or neutral objects. Those who viewed the cute images were faster at processing the small letters relative to the large letter.
This suggests that cute images help shift people’s attention to better focus on details. One reason for this could be that babies require caregivers to pay careful attention to their mental and physical well-being, as well as stay vigilant against any possible threats.
“This study provides further evidence that perceiving cuteness exerts immediate effects on cognition and behavior in a wider context than that related to caregiving or social interaction,” the researchers said.
The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.