Could Cute Animal Photos Help Lower Stress at Work? New Study Aims to Find Out

published Jan 5, 2020
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Looking at cute animal photos online is fun and strangely addictive, but could it also work to calm stress in the workplace as well as meditation can? One team of researchers wants to find out.

University of Tulsa professor Jennifer Ragsdale, who studies industrial-organizational psychology, is leading the study, which aims to find out whether looking at animal photos at work might actually help lower stress.

“Cyberslacking and cyberloafing are seen as deviant work behavior, whereas I’m trying to figure out if it has some beneficial work effect,” she told the Wall Street Journal, per People.

For the study, Ragsdale and team will put 150 participants into a simulation of a stressful work environment. During the breaks, they will be divided into three groups: the first will meditate, the second will work on a puzzle, and the third will look at a slideshow of adorable animal photos. They’ll then answer a series of questions to rate their stress levels.

WSJ reported that Ragsdale’s study was inspired by a couple of earlier studies about cute animal photos and productivity, according to HCM Technology Report. In one of those studies, conducted in 2012 by researchers at Hiroshima University, looking at photos of baby animals improved subjects’ performance while playing an Operation-like game. (Notably, baby animal photos were more effective than photos of delicious-looking food or even adult animals.) 

Before even beginning their study, Ragsdale’s team had to first decide what photos to count as “cute,” which proved surprisingly stressful. “It was relaxing in the sense we got to look at the pictures, but it was stressful when people disagreed,” one student told WSJ, per HCM Technology Report. “I don’t think it evoked the relaxing experience we’re hoping to evoke in the study.”