The Power of Cute

Ever wonder why Facebook is so overrun with images of cute baby animals? Cute has power! This week as Spring heats up, we will explore the power of cute. Can cute images of puppies, kittens, babies, and smiling people really change the way we see things? A quick Internet search says yes.

Let’s look at the search results: Scientific American writes “Smile! It Could Make You Happier,” Psychology Today suggests that “Just Looking at a Dog Can Make You Smile,” a Huffington Post article states, “Looking At Cute Animal Pictures At Work Can Make You More Productive, Study Claims,” The Daily Mail reports, “The power of cute: How looking at pictures of baby animals can help improve your concentration levels.”

Scientific evidence backs up the headlines. Cute images do relieve stress and make us happier. It all happens in the brain (not the heart, sorry to say). As evolved primates, or brains are hardwired to respond to visual stimulation (i.e.: No wooly mammoths stomping around here?  Good, let’s picnic.) Much of our brain function is absorbed with interpreting what we see.

We seek constant psychological reinforcement (i.e.: Are you sure there are no wooly mammoths stomping around here?) Images of our loved ones, of cute babies and cute baby animals provide that reinforcement. When we see cute babies, we get all warm and fuzzy; whereas wooly mammoths, or even images of wooly mammoths trigger a stress response.  Our sympathetic nervous system activates, and we take off.

The Japanese even have a word for the warm and fuzzy feeling: Kawaii. Kawaii is an adjective that describes the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture (Wikipedia). Pretty, cute, lovely, charming, dear, darling, and pet are all related to Kawaii. A recent article in Journals.Plos.org explains that cuteness-triggered positive emotions help us pay attention and keep focused. “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.”

Let our mascot, Penelope the Pink Moose, induce a cuteness-triggered positive emotion for you. Please feel free to share the power of cute. The Independent explains in “Why Cute Photos of Animals Makes us Happier,” that “Sharing these types of photos on social media enhances our social standing, as making someone smile also inflates our egos, which in turn makes us happy.” (www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-cute-photos-of-animals-make-us-happier-10332916.html)