Science: Watching Animal Videos Could Make You a Better Employee

By Megan Garber

And the more adorable the critter, the better.

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This fellow would like to help you have a productive day. (CuteOverload)

The puppy cam. The kitty cam. This. We watch this stuff at work to procrastinate on our work, right?

Not necessarily, it turns out. It turns out, in fact, that looking at images of adorable animals could actually help us be better at our jobs. No, really.

In a study from Hiroshima University, scientists examined the effects of animals' cuteness -- kawaii -- on human behavior. The researchers, Forbes's Alex Knapp reports, conducted three experiments to determine those effects, measuring both subjects' cognition and their dexterity. In the first, they asked participants -- 48 college students -- to play a Japanese game similar to our "Operation." In the second, they asked participants to perform a visual search using number matrices. In the third, they tested participants' focus.

And here is the good news for anyone who has ever gotten lost in the Internet Animal Matrix: In all three experiments, people who looked at pictures of cute baby animals outperformed those who did not. Even more intriguingly, they outperformed people who looked at pictures of adult animals. "Kawaii things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior," the researchers write in the paper. "This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus."

Those findings, Knapp points out, build on previous work about the beneficial effects of cuteness. A 2009 study suggested that simply looking at something cute would make people behave more carefully -- also demonstrated through subjects' dexterity with "Operation" -- than people who weren't under the influence of cuteness. The researchers conducting the earlier study suggested that this could be related to childcare: a response evolved in humans to ensure that we treat babies with extra care.

And while more work needs to be done to say conclusively whether and why cuteness affects our overall productivity, the current findings paint a heartening picture. (Of a cat. Embracing a kitten. Who is dream-twitching.) Which is basically all to say: Go watch that puppy cam feed. You deserve it. And your work demands it.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/science-watching-animal-videos-could-make-you-a-better-employee/263042/