Recently it has been uncovered that cute animal videos can help us reduce stress and anxiety. Although we always knew that puppies and kittens made us feel good, it’s great to know that there’s now research to back this up.

Conducted at the University of Leeds last year during the winter exam period, this study explored the impact of cute animals on both students and staff during a particularly stressful time. What the researchers found was that after watching a 30-minute video of cute animals, every participant saw a reduction in their blood pressure, heart rate and levels of anxiety.

Interestingly this research was undertaken in conjunction with Tourism Western Australia and the video included the quokka, which apparently is the world’s happiest animal. To see a sample of what the participants saw, you can visit quokka TV.

Yet videos of cute animals are not just good for our physical health but they have been shown to have an impact on our mental focus too.

In a study titled “The Power of Kawaii” (which happens to be one of my favourite Japanese words and translates to “cute”), researchers from Hiroshima University found that kawaii animals (no quokkas but pandas this time) can have powerful effects on our attention and concentration, and can lead to increases in productivity (Fukushima, Yano & Moriya, 2012). So rather than looking for process improvements or new technology to become more productive, perhaps organisations should instead consider how they use cute objects to improve their worker’s moods and to induce certain behavioural tendencies.

Why is this so?

The findings from both of these studies seem to be contextualised by Barbara Fredrickson’s (1998) Broaden and Build Theory. Fredrickson’s work has uncovered that our experiences of positive emotions such as joy, happiness, hope, curiosity, love, interest etc. come with a whole range of benefits including undoing the effects of negative emotions (Fredrickson et al., 2000). Additionally, Fredrickson’s theory suggests that positive emotions broaden our thoughts, helping us to problem solve better and build our physical, intellectual and social resources for the future including our resilience.

So how can we boost positive emotions?

Right now, it’s normal for us to feel stressed, anxious and scared whilst we face this pandemic. The best thing we can do is accept this negativity, but we also need to focus on increasing our experience of positive emotions too. Fredrickson’s research tells us that everyone experiences negative emotions, yet resilient people are less inclined to get stuck in negativity as they also focus on positivity at the same time. Some ways to do this include connecting with others, practising self-care, exercising, being kind towards others, and of course looking at videos of puppies and kittens. And the latter seems to have caught on with over 10M people in less than 24 hours recently viewing a clip on Instagram of Jennifer Aniston’s new dog!

Is it just cute animals that have this effect?

A close friend of mine told me many years ago that after her son went to sleep, she often spent time looking at photos of him (regardless of the negative emotions he may have caused her to experience that day). At the time I couldn’t understand why she did this. Recently however, I’ve asked other mothers if they do the same, and the response was yes.

When asked why, one of the most common explanations given was to remember fond and happy memories of their child from the day and to share these with their partners, who may not have been present. What I realised each of them was doing was savouring those positive moments.

What is savouring?

Savouring is the process of holding onto good thoughts and emotions in the present, and reminiscing long after whatever caused them has disappeared. It’s the idea that we should all ‘stop and smell the roses’ or ‘take pause to enjoy a morning coffee’ more often. Savouring is a great way to feel, enjoy and extend our experiences of positive emotions, and science tells us it’s an important ingredient for wellbeing.

One way to savour is by sharing good experiences with others, or by watching cute videos, which can produce a quick boost of positive emotions, and although fleeting, can have longer lasting outcomes. What my friends are doing is effectively taking their good mood from the day and then reliving it again at night by looking at photos or reminiscing on these events with their partners (Bryant, Chadwick & Kluwe, 2011). I always knew they were a smart group!

And now it seems that I finally have a reason to share a photo of the cutest animal of them all, my dog Percy.

Hopefully Percy’s image has demonstrated the science, and has given you a jolt of joy and some stress relief like he does to me daily!