Want to Be More Productive? Look at Cute Baby Animal Photos

Candice Gaukel Andrews November 20, 2012 5

Looking at pictures of baby animals, such as this harp seal pup, doesn’t just make you feel happy, it can also increase your productivity. ©Colin McNulty

A highlight of any nature travel experience is seeing baby animals: fuzzy and clumsy Churchill polar bear cubs, just emerged from the den; young Yellowstone wolves tumbling and rolling as they “play” fight; or inexperienced lion offspring, learning how to stalk and hunt.

We all know that babies—of almost any species—are cute and that we’re drawn to watching them. Recently, however, researchers in Japan published a report that demonstrates that looking at pictures of puppies or kittens doesn’t just make you feel happy, it can also increase your attention to detail and improve your productivity.

Seeing a mother polar bear with her cub is the highlight of any Northern nature trip. ©Eric Rock

The kawaii factor

During a study that was conducted at the Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences in Japan, 48 students were randomly assigned to one of two groups: either one shown a series of pictures of baby animals or one that viewed photos of adult animals. A control group saw images of tasty and delicious foods. The students were then asked to complete a task similar to playing the American board game Operation, an activity that requires a high degree of concentration. Those who looked at the pictures of the cute, baby animals outperformed their peers by a significant margin. This was true for both the male and female students participating in the study.

The authors of the report, which was published in September in PLOS One, an online journal, concluded that kawaii (Japanese for “cute”) things not only make us happier, but also can affect our behavior. Cute was defined as “a set of features that are commonly seen in young animals: a large head relative to body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes and so forth.” They wrote, “viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.” In other words, the feeling that something is adorable prompts a person to want to be closer to and know more about the object; and that may, in turn, concentrate one’s attention.

Exactly why cuteness improves concentration is not yet known. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Is it cuteness, or something else?

On the other hand, several other studies have shown that short breaks of all kinds, whether to look at a reporter trying to outsmart a military dolphin or to check out cats that look like Hitler (or “kitlers”), can help keep you more focused throughout the workday. Web browsing has been shown to refresh tired workers and enhance their productiveness, compared with working straight through or engaging in other activities, such as making personal calls or sending texts or e-mails. For example, a 2009 University of Melbourne study concluded that “short and unobtrusive breaks” made workers more productive than their counterparts who refused to give in to the siren song of the Web.

The Hiroshima University researchers do note that the psycho-physiological state underlying the feeling of cuteness has to be more fully explored before any firm conclusions as to why cuteness improves concentration can be reliably reached. There are also cultural responses to cuteness, which need to be investigated—while Japanese participants come from a culture where the reaction to kawaii hardly differs between males and females, gender might play a bigger role for those from a European nation.

Still, we do know that whether we’re at home or at work, we may be able to increase our efficiency by putting cute objects around us. And that’s good news for all of us who keep a photo of a beloved pet within elbow’s reach.

Do you have a favorite baby animal video or Web site that never fails to make you smile—or feel more productive?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,




  1. Emily M. November 22, 2012 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Love it!

  2. Sugandha Iyer November 22, 2012 at 6:41 am - Reply

    Simply cute post with cute little baby animals.

  3. Maureen Blevins November 21, 2012 at 8:17 am - Reply

    I don’t know about more productive, but the ‘cute’ factor definately has a calming effect.

  4. Carter and Olivia November 21, 2012 at 4:49 am - Reply


    Thanks for writing this article. That must explain why our two young founders are so happy and passionate about trying to save endangered species.

    We also wanted to make you aware of their latest initiative called the Rhino Letter Writing Campaign in the hopes you might be able to help them spread the word about their efforts.

    One More Generation (OMG) founders Olivia (age 10) and her brother Carter (age 11.5) are working on a letter writing campaign where they are trying to get 1,000 kids (and adults) from all over the world to send us letters addressed to the President of South Africa asking him to get more involved with stopping poaching of Rhino’s for their horn.

    Unless the South African government quickly gets involved, the Rhino species is guaranteed to go extinct in our lifetime. This is an amazing opportunity to show kids (and adults) of all ages that they can make a difference and if successful, they can someday tell their kids that they were instrumental in saving this species from extinction.

    You can read more on our site at the link below. Our goal is to collect 1,000 letters and personally deliver them to President Zuma early next year. Carter and Olivia are already scheduling presentations at various schools now that they are back in session and we are also looking to reach out to churches and any other community group where we can address a large audience.

    If you know of any organization who might be interested in receiving a copy of the presentation, please let us know and we can easily send it to them.

    Dear President Zuma, (https://onemoregeneration.org/2012/07/20/dear-president-zuma/)

    Please let us know if you think you can help in any way. We also encourage you to send us your own letter because as you know, every voice counts.

    Thanks in advance for your support, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best regards from the entire OMG Team 😉


  5. Travis November 20, 2012 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Ah, we all love kitlers!

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