Science Says Looking at Cute Animals Is Good for Your Brain
If these increasingly uncertain times have you scouring social media for cat videos and puppy pics, you’re not alone. Furry or feathered, big or small, wild or domestic, it seems there’s nothing a cute animal can’t fix.
As former brain scientist Dana Smith writes for Elemental, that’s because cute animals are good for your brain.
It’s a phenomenon supported by plenty of research. A 2015 study into why cat videos are so popular on the internet found that looking at adorable felines boosted people’s moods. Test subjects reported feeling more hope, happiness, and contentment; less anxiety, annoyance, sadness, and guilt; and they felt more energized afterward.
As for dogs, research has shown that looking at pups—especially your own—activates the emotion and reward circuits in the human brain. Petting a dog, which lowers cortisol and elevates levels dopamine and oxytocin, is even better.
But the positive effects of cute animals extend well beyond our mood. Smith references several studies that suggest that gazing upon adorable animals can even improve job performance. Specifically, people were found to be more precise and make fewer mistakes on cognitive and dexterity tasks after viewing pictures of puppies and kittens.
Why? It all comes down to baby schema, a set of facial and body features that make a creature appear "cute" and activate our nurturing instincts.
As science writer Simon Watt explained via the BBC, humans are programmed this way because, compared to other species, our babies are extremely underdeveloped at birth.
“Human babies are born too early to be independent and so we have evolved as a species to make nurturing them one of our priorities” Watt said. “Caring for babies not only involves tenderness but also requires vigilance against possible threats.”
Simply put, looking at cute photos stimulates our maternal and paternal instincts, thus improving performance of perceptual and motor tasks.
So, go forth and look at all the adorable animal photos you can find. It’s good for you!