Study: Why CuteOverload is Critical to Your Work

In my favorite Ig Nobel-worthy study of the year (thus far), researchers at University of Virginia have completed a study suggesting that viewing or interacting with something adorable may improve your physical performance on certain tasks(PDF). Sweet!

Here’s the breakdown:

prosh!In Experiment 1, 40 women individually played a game of Operation in which they had one chance to remove each of the body parts without touching the tweezers to the sides and making the wacky buzzing sound and blinking red nose that indicate your patient has tragically died on the table. They were then randomly assigned to look at images that were either of low cuteness (dogs and cats) or high cuteness (puppehs and kittehs). Finally, they played one more game of Operation.

The women in the high-cuteness group showed significantly greater improvements in their performance of the game than those in the low-cuteness group.

The experiment was then repeated with 23 women and 33 men, using new photos in an attempt to control for non-cuteness factors such as interest and emotional power. The results reinforced the first study’s findings that those exposed to super-ultra-anerable images performed much better on the game.

The study’s authors recognize the improved game performance as an increase in carefulness, suggesting that “cuteness not only compels us to care for cute things but also prepares us to do so via its effects on behavioral carefulness.” Because the researchers ensured that each group of participants felt the same emotions, and because they had the participants fill out self-evaluations of their emotional states before and after the tests, they were able to show that cuteness doesn’t just make you feel good (which would in turn make you perform better), but cuteness actually directly improves your performance. They write:

Our finding suggests that the tenderness elicited by something “cute” is more than just a positive affective feeling state—it can literally make people more physically tender in their motor behavior.

This would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint — seeing your prosh little baby would cause you to act with more care, thereby increasing the likelihood that the little spawnling would reach adulthood.

And how might this affect your day-to-day life if you’re not raising a bebbeh? Well, I read this study during the very same lunch break in which I saw this amazing baby sheep picture at CuteOverload. That photo is now my desktop background, so every time I minimize a window I’m that much more likely to exercise extreme care in my work.


As a follow-up study, I’d like to see a chart breaking down the effectiveness of each of CuteOverload’s Rules of Cuteness. For instance, are people more likely to be careful after viewing Rule #6 (acting like people) compared to those viewing Rule #20 (showing of paw pads)? Or in pictorial form:

Rule #6


Rule #20

I’m sure you’ll all agree, this research is critical to the continued growth of the human race.

And yes this mostly was just an excuse to post totally snorgable pics of Dr. Calimari and Cpt. Infinity.

(PS: thanks to my buddy Wendy for tipping me off to this study!)

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Kittehs! Puppehs! The salvation of the human race! :-D

    Does that mean I should have at least one Sheltie sitting in my cube at work with me at all times? (I hope!)

  2. I already sent a copy of this to my boss, Rebecca! ;-) No tthat I expect it to do any good, but she’ll get a laugh out of it!

  3. LOL, I read “CuteOverlord” like 3 times before my brain head thingy took more than a split second to process it.

  4. that cat reminds me of the family cat that just died. his name was Tabby and he put up with everything. i miss him.

  5. I fully expect, nay DEMAND, a cut of everyone’s increased efficiency from looking at my avatar.

  6. The cats in the sink picture is some of the best cute I’ve seen in a long time. Typo’s have decreased by 50%!!

  7. @Rebecca:

    The Death Star could be a big ball of twine, and the power of the force could be a lazor pointer that they use to distract the other kittehs!

    “These aren’t the kittehs you’re looking for.”

  8. So will lolcats, lambs, and other cuteness soon be required studying for anyone performing surgery? Or practicing for a piano recital?

    @Sam Ogden: I like Angry Tuesday. It would compliment my cycle of dinners. Angry Tuesday, and pasta night. Pissed Off Wednesday, with meat loaf. Slightly Irrational But Mostly Just Irritable Thursdays, leftovers. Drunk Friday, drinks for dinner. Swinging Saturdays, friends over for a potluck. Sodomy Sundays, take-out.

    Mondays? Fuck Monday.

  9. Oh, this makes total sense. QuestionAuthority, you should definitely have one of your Shelties with you at all times. It would be community service.

    The last several weeks of the semester I brought one of my cats in to work once a week. I didn’t actually bring him into the classroom, but he hung out in my office or the offices of colleagues during the day. I was much more productive and relaxed. My colleagues who cat sat while I was teaching were more relaxed and productive. The secretary thinks I should bring him every day because I’m more pleasant to be around then.

    Everybody wins. I’m going to continue this next fall, unless I’m told not to do so. The first time my boss saw him she said “oh, what a beautiful cat!”

    This cat is not very bright, but incredibly sweet. He also toddles right into his carrier when it’s time to go to campus. He’s so quiet in the car I almost forget he’s there. (Unlike our other six cats.)

  10. Excuse me while I posture.

    As a man, a real man, not a namby-pamby “sensitive” man. I find baby animals disgusting. Looking at them actually makes me rather uncomfortable and start to squirm as I think about my childhood pet, Sir Snugglington. Oh Snugglington, I miss you so… Wait, damn it see what you made me do?
    Ahem.. Right emotions are for women and for men who think Abba wrote the song “Dancing Queen” just for them. How am I suppose to work feeling all awkward?

    No the preferred method to get me into working mode is to slam a few energy drinks, crank some Linkin Park, and alternate between watching Ultimate Fighting and looking at pictures of muscle cars and Hummers, also bikini clad women. All with a fat dip of chew in my lower lip. Sure my work may not be as accurate and “careful”, but it is done faster and in a more extreme fashion. EXTREME!!!

  11. @SkepticaHippie: There’s nothing wrong with a man liking cute animals or pets in general. I think being able to show that kind of thing actually shows a man to be internally stronger and more comfortable with himself than a so-called “macho, manly man.”

    Remember, even Spock liked tribbles… :-D

  12. @catfurniture:
    I’d love to, but working as a government contractor on an Army base, I have to follow their rules. I’ve even asked for support from the military leadership for “Bring your Pet to Work Day” with no luck. :-(

    We have four Shelties and three cats, including His Highness, Banzai I, an elderly (18 1/2) blue point Siamese that rules the house with an iron paw. Someday, we should trade e-mail addresses so we can share pictures. :-D

  13. @infinitemonkey: I would be more motivated to get up in the morning and come into work if there was a dog at my office. As it stands I have to haul myself out of bed and drag my butt away from my prosh bebehs (all five of them as of last Friday) with the resigned sadness that this is what I must do to them stocked up on kibbley noms.

    I’ve been daydreaming of my two new kittehs all day and am finding it difficult to concentrate on lab data.

  14. Cuteness boosts performance not only of the observers, but also of the possessor of the cuteness, as your cat is clearly tackling a cryptic crossword in Games magazine.

  15. I’m sure I’m on the only male at work who is a frequent visitor to Cute Overload, the wife suckered me into it.

  16. @Rebecca: Thanks Rebecca, and the cute overload definitely helped me at work today. As Senor Plait would say… “The stupid, it burns!”

  17. I knew that the guinea pigs were vital in improving my work.

    Plus, the award also goes out for Best Use of Childhood Game in a Published Paper. I hadn’t come across cute overload either… thanks for that :-)

  18. However, when you’re in charge of regulating your own intake of cute–i.e., researchers can’t pull you away from the adowable puppeh and kitteh pics–no work gets done, ever. I’ve been on Cute Overload for hours.

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