Cute Animal Pics Are Addictive And Good For You!
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
At last: there is something out there which is addictive and good for us! What exactly drives the Internet's obsession with cute critters? Could it be that a little bit of squee is actually good for our health?
These are questions that have vexed people since the creation of the wondrous world wide web which now fuels our fluffy animal dependency. So it's little surprise that by the late 2000's scientists at prestigious universities were conducting experiments to determine the answers to several cute conundrums: what exact physical characteristics do we instinctively find cute, and what effects do these have upon us physically and psychologically?
Us humans would like to consider ourselves to be highly developed creatures capable of great feats of logic, creativity and progress, but nothing brings us back to our fundamental humanity than our need to nurture and connect. This is biologically ingrained in us due to our off-spring being born significantly under-developed compared to many other species. Think of how a baby deer will shakily be on its feet within hours of being born, eating solid foods within months and independent from its mother within a year or two. For a human to have neurologically and cognitively developed enough to match that of a new-born chimpanzee, it would theoretically require a gestation period between 18 to 21 months.
Since our offspring are so hopelessly vulnerable, we have evolved with deeply ingrained nurturing instincts which also help bring a profound sense of connection.
We are also by nature, extremely visually based creatures who respond psychologically to certain facial characteristics. So what connects seeing that fluff ball kitten, the moon faced picture of a baby sloth, and the video of a tumbling cheeky puppy haplessly chasing a ball? The answer: We are drawn to creatures (both adult and infant) with big heads, large eyes, small noses and chins, short limbs, a general roundness to their physique, and a wobble in their stride.
This strong sense of nurture combined with the delight of watching something that pleases us is actually addictive and good for us. In 2012, scientists in Japan determined that looking at creatures we find cute improves our productivity as it activates our sense of vigilance – our brains are primed to attention.
The next piece of excellent news for lovers of internet fluffers appeared in 2015, when Yale graduates finally solved the puzzle of the highly conflicting emotions felt when overwhelmed by adorableness. 'Cuteness-aggression' - that feeling when you want to hug something to death - is actually a sign of emotional health. It's our brain's way of bringing extreme feelings into equilibrium, by counter-balancing them with the opposite sensation. Ever nervously laughed or cried tears of joy? Then rest assured you are not a psychopath for getting so gooey over a young joey that you want to eat it.
How it can help us physically and mentally....
The busy daily schedule most of us have predisposes us to encountering bouts of stress and charged emotion on a regular basis. Even something as simple as someone cutting us up at the junction or losing our keys can create small negative moments which add up significantly throughout the day. Fortunately it seems that the simple therapeutic act of perusing YouTube videos featuring baby flying foxes sucking pacifiers is more then adequate to soothe the cumulative effects of a bad day.
Better still is actually petting your own four/two-legged fur/feather ball (read as applicable). This releases increased amounts of the hormones serotonin and oxytocin helping us to feel more calm and relaxed. Serotonin is an important chemical neurotransmitter in the body which can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep and memory. Oxytocin too is a neurotransmitter most famously known as the "love hormone," because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and sexual activity. It induces "pro-social behaviors" and emotional responses which contribute to relaxation, trust and psychological stability. It also has the added bonus of reducing the stress hormone cortisol ultimately resulting in a boost to our immune system and sense of well-being.
To really max out on those feel good hormones there are three more scientifically supported strategies you can employ:
Firstly, take more adorable pics of your pet and share them with others. There is a huge boost to our self-esteem in making others laugh, which is amplified by the sheer pride of owning such a photogenic darling.
Secondly, why not join an online community such as Bored Panda which features numerous cute-spiring posts and gives you a sense of place amongst your animal-loving brethren. Members get to vote up the pictures they find most engaging and leave humourous caption suggestions or comments about their own experiences.
Thirdly, and quite possibly the best method to induce a powerful hit of health improving positivity, is to look at pictures of animals photo-bombing mundane scenarios. Our brains respond deeply to cute creatures doing something hilariously unexpected. Scientists believe this is the most powerful form of cute overload, descriptively called the cognitive orienting response. In layman's terms, we especially enjoy the incongruence between what we should see (an ordinary wedding photograph for example) with what we are unexpectedly witnessing (a random kitten playfully monkeying around on the bride's wedding trail).
The feel good factor which cuteness provokes is hugely amplified by a delightful surprise; and we all love nice surprises.
Psychologically we feel we have got something more than we were expecting. So in a way it's great we have the internet to help perk us up so easily when things get a bit grey.
Who is cashing in on our love of cuteness?
Our predisposition towards certain cute characteristics fuels whole industries from charities to entertainment generating revenue worth billions. Just think about Pokemon, the Minions and even the Porgs introduced in the latest Star Wars movie to massively increase its awww' factor. Given that the average demographic for Star Wars fans are 34 year-old males, some cynics question whether Lucasfilm and Disney invented Porgs purely to sell more plushies to non-fans during the holiday season. Disney in particular notably favours a certain look for both their human and animal characters which tick many of the boxes on the adorable characteristics check-list.
Amazingly, even manufacturers of inanimate objects such as cars and MP3s and been taking advantage of cuteness in unexpected ways to make their products have more appeal. Think of the bubbly-shaped Fiat 500 or early VW Beetle - so adorable it even had a vase with a flower on the dashboard. Think of the dinky, yet somehow cute, iPod Nano.
Is having so much cuteness in our lives ultimately a good thing?
In spite of companies usurping the power cute to sell more, I can't help but feel increasing the cuteness quotient in our lives can only be a good thing. Be it for entertainment or commercial reasons, when one of the best psychological results it can have is a developed sense of empathy and compassion, then who can complain?