Spending time with animals can help humans in many ways, from alleviating depression, anxiety and cardiovascular stress to increasing overall compassion. Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, chemicals associated with calm and relaxed feelings. But let's say you're upset and having a tough time coping and focusing at the office — immediately following a tumultuous election, for instance — or you're otherwise away from a furry companion. Good news! A 2012 study out of Japan and published in the journal PLoS ONE shows that even simply looking at pictures of cute animals can help increase concentration.
Researchers engaged university students in three separate experiments. The first tasked 48 subjects with playing a Japanese dexterity-testing board game called Bilibili Dr. Game — it's similar to the iconic American children's game Operation, which famously penalizes clumsiness with a skin-crawling buzz. Students played the game twice, with half of the group viewing cute animal pictures during the break between rounds — their performance scores improved by 44 percent though the time it took to complete the task increased by 12 percent, suggesting a more deliberate pace.
That first experiment replicated a previous 2009 study which used the game Operation, and the results of which suggested that cuteness can improve dexterity and fine-motor skill movement. "Human sensitivity to those possessing cute features may be an adaptation that facilitates caring for delicate human young," wrote the authors of that study. (Additional research by psychologist Gary D. Sherman, one of the authors of the 2009 study, suggests that cuteness may help encourage social behavior.)
The second and third Japanese experiment built upon these results by having test subjects view either images of cute baby animals, adult animals or attractive plates of food — so, basically, your Instagram feed. These 36 students who did not participate in the earlier test then had pick letters and numbers out of an array within a designated amount of time, finding that the subjects who viewed the baby animals were able to concentrate more and perform better, increasing accuracy by 16 percent and speed by 13 percent, while performance.
So what's the takeaway? If the boss hassles you for scrolling through your encyclopedic Pinterest board (you know, the one titled "OMG OMG OMFG #DEAD") just say that you're working on your concentration skills. In fact, we'll help you out — here you go: