My sisters and I often exchange e-mails throughout the work day with the subject line "very important"; or sometimes "EXTREMELY IMPORTANT," like when a baby elephant gets a bath (and loves every second of it!), a baby buffalo is born, or a couple of red pandas have the time of their lives playing in the snow. I sneak these precious moments in between projects, feeling a little guilty for not doing work.
Turns out, I can stop feeling guilty. Those e-mail breaks might actually be important, at least according to the University of Hiroshima's study "The Power of Kawaii" (kawaii means "cute" in Japanese), which asserts that looking at pictures and videos of animals actually helps a person concentrate.
Here's the bottom line: "Results show that participants performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images. This is interpreted as the result of a narrowed attentional focus induced by the cuteness-triggered positive emotion that is associated with approach motivation and the tendency toward systematic processing."
Now that's just when you look at an animal. Imagine what happens when you interact with one! Attending a conference last year, I went to an educational session in the morning and then took a look around at the different booths. Feeling a bit uncomfortable and entirely out of place, I decided to visit the North Star Therapy Animals' Puppy Cuddling booth.
I wasn't the only one who made a beeline for the booth—I had to wait in line to pet a dog, and it was well worth it. The golden retriever I sat with for a few minutes relieved my feelings of anxiety, and it was easier to make conversation with complete strangers now that we had something—a very cute something—to talk about. I wasn't the only one who felt the benefits of that cuddle time; the booth was nonstop busy with conference attendees taking a break from the work-related stress.
My workplace is one that allows employees to bring dogs to work. Sure, I'm not working the moment I'm playing catch with Lucy or petting Finnegan (who's wearing his new tie that day), but I find myself in a better mood when I return to my desk. Unsurprisingly, a 2012 study from the Virginia Commonwealth University found lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction, and a more positive perception of their employer among employees brought their dogs to work.
Yes, animals can be kind of a distraction—but the benefits of the after-effect are proven. So watch all those cute videos, look at all those adorable pictures, and pet all the dogs you want.
Morgan Halaska is the assistant editor of Minnesota Meetings + Events magazine.