The power of cuteness - why online cat videos can make you more productive

They are the most watched videos on Youtube. Now Sharon Crowe reports on research which found that looking at images of cute things, such as fluffy cats, can make you more productive at work

IT SEEMS like for every photo of someone’s holiday on Facebook there are a dozen videos of cute cats, bewildered cats, scary cats — and what must be millions of videos of cats falling, cats being canny, cats being cuddly and cats chasing things.

Maybe all dog lovers are out there striding along beaches and woodlands with their darling pets but cat lovers — less likely to be taking the feline for a walk — definitely seem to be more eager to record their pet’s image for the world to see.

Even if you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed checking for business contacts and networking opportunities, it can be hard not to get waylaid by at least one video promising to be the ‘bravest cat ever’ boasting footage of ‘cute kitty vs shoelace’.

And this is bound to happen as the CEO strides by.

Well, don’t worry because you could be in line for employee of the month — if that boss of yours has read the latest research, claiming that watching cute cat videos boosts workplace productivity.

A Japanese study found that looking at pictures of cute things, such as fluffy cats, boosted a person’s focus and made them more careful.

Cute things, according to these experts, are creatures with “a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth”.

Hiroshi Nittono and his colleagues at Hiroshima University carried out three experiments. The first of these experiments involved a game of Operation — where players have to remove objects from a toy ‘patient’ without touching the edges of the cavity and sounding a buzzer. Then half of the players looked at images of cute kittens and puppies. The other half looked at adult cats and dogs. The ones who had seen the baby animals performed much better the second time around, but the ones who only looked at adult animals didn’t show any such improvement.

The next study involved a bunch of students doing a numerical version of a ‘word search’. Then the group was split into three — with one subset looking at baby animals; one looking at adult animals; and a third looking at pictures of nice food, such as pasta or steak.

Again, the ones who looked at baby animals saw their scores improve but the other two groups saw their scores remain fairly steady. The third experiment involved groups looking at baby or adult animals or neutral objects. However, the people who were shown adult animals or neutral objects saw the improvement this time.

So, cute cats are good for your work — and that’s a scientifically-proven fact.

The jury is out on whether cute kitties helped one particular software developer in the US — he actually outsourced his own job to China. This allowed him spend the working day surfing the net and watching cat videos. He was caught in an investigation by the firm’s telecommunications provider, Verizon.

The investigators were called in after the company discovered that someone was consistently logging into the firm’s main computer from Shenyang in China — using the passwords of the company’s top programmer, identified only as ‘Bob’.

Initially they though it was a computer virus or a hacker. But it turned out that Bob was paying a Chinese software consultancy firm just a fifth of his own six-figure salary to do his work, while he watched kitten videos.

Bob was even taking on jobs from other firms and delegating that work to his underpaid Chinese counterparts, too. Apparently he earned several hundred thousand dollars last year and only had to hand over around $50k to the Chinese consultancy.

Bob’s employers were not impressed. But I reckon they were a bit hasty — perhaps watching cat videos inspired Bob to find a way to get the same work done for much less money. It looks like his performance was enhanced to such an extent that maybe he should have been kept on and encouraged to watch more cat videos and then hopefully find even more ways to boost the company’s efficiency.

Four fab felines to give you paws for thought

If you’re in a mid-afternoon slump or just can’t find a way to crack that tricky accounting dilemma, then maybe these will help ...

- Cat Alarm Clock – Boo, a cat who reaches under a door with his paw to flick a springy doorstop to encourage his owner to wake up each morning at 5am.

- Any video featuring Henri the Cat on YouTube. This is a ‘chat noir’ who features a series of ‘très mélancolique’ videos with cute names such as ‘Paws de deux’, some of which have been watched more than seven million times.

- Kitten meets hedgehog — exactly what this one sounds like: a curious little kitten meets a baby hedgehog to a lovely acoustic version of ‘You’ve got a friend in me’ by Alanna Matty.

- Cardboard Dreams – Three cats investigating some cardboard boxes:

- A meme posted by The Cat Hospital in Glanmire featuring a wide-eyed cat gazing adoringly at the camera holder, with the words: “Tell me again about the day you brought me home and I was all cold and hungry and you became my forever human … it’s my favourite bedtime story.”

Cat oscars

There’s even an Oscars of the cat video world and the grand prize winner gets a cheque for $15,000.

The Friskies, sponsored by pet food company of the same name, is a competition for US-based cat lovers. There are four categories – Catness, Catcom, Catchall and Catventure.

Videos submitted must meet criteria such as: Portraying cat playfulness or quirks, or a sense that there’s a story being told or portraying a cat’s perspective.

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