HIROSHIMA, Japan — The latest word in workplace productivity is "kawaii," Japanese for cute. This is cute as in fuzzy kittens with adorably large eyes and petulant expressions. Think puppies or fluffy chicks or baby pandas.
The Washington Post reported on how Japanese researchers have discovered how looking at cute pictures makes people more productive: "A team of researchers at Hiroshima University recently conducted a study where they showed university students pictures of baby animals before completing various tasks. What they found, in research published today, was that those who saw the baby animal pictures did more productive work after seeing those photographs — even more than those who saw a picture of an adult animal or a pleasant food."
The study was titled "The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus," conduced by Japanese scientists Hiroshi Nittono, Michiko Fukushima, Akihiro Yano and Hiroki Moriya. They asked 48 students to play a simple game after they were shown photographs. Some were shown adult dogs and cats, some shown tasty food like steak or sushi. They didn't do much better.
But the people who were shown puppies and kittens? "Far and away, productivity was best in the first condition," The Washington Post reported. "This was true across both genders participating in the experiment."
"Whether at home or work, we may be able to increase efficiency in what we do by putting cute objects around us," Hiroshi Nittono of Hiroshima University told The Japan Times.
But what is cute?
Forbes said: "Researchers defined it 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.' Human babies (and Hello Kitty, Pokemon and other anime characters) share the same characteristics. All 'capture attention, bring a smile to the viewer's face and induce motivation and behavior for approach and caregiving.'
"The feeling that something is adorable has a function to prompt a person to want to be closer to and know more about the object," Nittono told The Japan Times. "That, perhaps, creates the effect of concentrating one's attention."
Wired, however, is a little skeptical: "The researchers note that 'the psychophysiological state underlying the feeling of cuteness has to be explored' before any firm conclusions as to why cuteness improves concentration can be reliably concluded. There are also cultural responses to cuteness, which need to be explored — while the Japanese participants come from a culture where the different reactions to kawaii aren't that big, gender might play a bigger role in a European society, for example."
But why fly in the face of science?
Forbes says, "The next time your boss catches you browsing LOLCats, you now have an excuse: you're improving your job performance."
Government Executive says: "Go watch that puppy cam feed. You deserve it. And your work demands it."
Care2.com says: "Well, if science says so then it's only proper that you should take a few minutes out of your day to boost your productivity by looking at some adorable baby animal photos."
One commenter on an article on CBC/Radio Canada immediately thought of how to put this knowledge to good use: "If this is true, maybe baby animal pictures should be hung up in parliament."
Online kawaii resources to improve your productivity: