The power of Kawaii: viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e46362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046362. Epub 2012 Sep 26.


Kawaii (a Japanese word meaning "cute") things are popular because they produce positive feelings. However, their effect on behavior remains unclear. In this study, three experiments were conducted to examine the effects of viewing cute images on subsequent task performance. In the first experiment, university students performed a fine motor dexterity task before and after viewing images of baby or adult animals. Performance indexed by the number of successful trials increased after viewing cute images (puppies and kittens; M ± SE=43.9 ± 10.3% improvement) more than after viewing images that were less cute (dogs and cats; 11.9 ± 5.5% improvement). In the second experiment, this finding was replicated by using a non-motor visual search task. Performance improved more after viewing cute images (15.7 ± 2.2% improvement) than after viewing less cute images (1.4 ± 2.1% improvement). Viewing images of pleasant foods was ineffective in improving performance (1.2 ± 2.1%). In the third experiment, participants performed a global-local letter task after viewing images of baby animals, adult animals, and neutral objects. In general, global features were processed faster than local features. However, this global precedence effect was reduced after viewing cute images. 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. For future applications, cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) 23330217 to HN. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.