Ingrid Fetell Lee: We find a lot of joy in cute things whether that's baby animal videos or cartoons. And the reason that we find this joy is actually it stems from deep in our evolution.
Cuteness is actually a set of aesthetic features that are "designed" to unlock playful and nurturing behavior in us. And for children even as young as six years old, cute features actually prompt these kinds of nurturing behaviors. So cuteness is actually a kind of defense mechanism that helps protect vulnerable young individuals from harm as they grow older.
So cute features consist of a few basic things. Usually round features—so big, round eyes, a round head that's usually a little bit too big for its body—And these aesthetic signals actually prompt playful and nurturing impulses in a caregiver. And so the idea is that when something has these cute features—whether that's a baby or a baby animal or even a cartoon—These features prompt us to feel a sense of play, and they actually prompt us to engage more deeply with that cute thing so that cute animal gets a lot of stimulation that it needs for its brain to develop.
This one's a little kooky, but research in Japan has shown that looking at cute things actually can increase concentration.
One of the reasons that they speculate that cuteness might influence concentration is that cute things are associated with nurturing, and nurturing is a very focused and detail-oriented activity. And so when people perform tasks after looking at pictures of baby animals they actually found that they were more attentive to detail and more conscientious in the tasks that they did. So this might be another way to both improve performance but also bring a little bit of joy to the workspace. I do this in my own workspace by adding googly eyes to things, which is a very silly way to do it but it actually brings a lot of joy and maybe it also helps me catch errors in my writing.