The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus
Kawaii (a Japanese word meaning “cute”) things are popular because they produce positive feelings. A study conducted by researchers at Japan’s Hiroshima University measured the effects of exposure to images of baby animals on task completion and productivity and found they have a measurably beneficial effect.
Researchers conducted three experiments where subjects viewed a variety of images that included baby animals, adult animals, humans and food. The subjects played games set up to measure their performance at tasks, and the results were measured based on which type of images were viewed.
After features in LiveScience and Mashable last week, stories announcing that viewing cute puppies and kittens while at work is good for our productivity and performance spread across the media landscape. For many readers, it feels as though something that has been a secret pleasure, or that they’ve been ridiculed or reprimanded for, has been made respectable, and that they’re been proved right for sneaking those cuteness peeks all along.
The researchers conclude, “Kawaii things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior. This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus. This effect is not specific to tasks related to caregiving or social interaction. For future applications, cute objects may be used as a facile emotion elicitor. Cute features not only make objects more user friendly and approachable, but also induce careful behavioral tendencies in the users, which is beneficial in specific situations, such as driving and office work.”
In one of the study’s experiments, subjects performed more carefully and successfully in a game similar to Operation after viewing the baby animal images. It is thought that the natural tendency to protect and care for babies transfers to other tasks. Cognitive skills were shown to improve in the series of three experiments, as well.
In the second experiment, subjects performed a visual search task that used sheets of numbers arranged in a formation. Participants were asked to search a matrix for the designated digit (shown on the left side of each matrix) without pointing at the digits and to state the number of counts vocally.
In the third experiment, subjects’ reaction time was measured. Participants were asked to indicate whether a stimulus presented on a cathode ray tube screen contained the letter H or the letter T by pressing the left or right key on a response pad as quickly and as accurately as possible.
The study’s abstract reads:
Kawaii (a Japanese word meaning “cute”) things are popular because they produce positive feelings. However, their effect on behavior remains unclear. In this study, three experiments were conducted to examine the effects of viewing cute images on subsequent task performance. In the first experiment, university students performed a fine motor dexterity task before and after viewing images of baby or adult animals. Performance indexed by the number of successful trials increased after viewing cute images (puppies and kittens; M ± SE = 43.9±10.3% improvement) more than after viewing images that were less cute (dogs and cats; 11.9±5.5% improvement). In the second experiment, this finding was replicated by using a non-motor visual search task. Performance improved more after viewing cute images (15.7±2.2% improvement) than after viewing less cute images (1.4±2.1% improvement). Viewing images of pleasant foods was ineffective in improving performance (1.2±2.1%). In the third experiment, participants performed a global–local letter task after viewing images of baby animals, adult animals, and neutral objects. In general, global features were processed faster than local features. However, this global precedence effect was reduced after viewing cute images. Results show that participants performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images. 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. 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.