- Looking at pictures of dogs for 5 minutes can improve your sense of well-being.
- Looking at cute dog pictures also improves attention and focus.
If you find yourself taking a break mid-day and scrolling an Instagram feed full of cute dog photos, you're not just procrastinating; you're improving your mental health. Studies show that just a few minutes of looking at pictures of dogs online can significantly improve your sense of well-being and improve your focus and attention. You're basically leveling up for the work ahead.
In writing our book about people's bond with their dogs, The Purest Bond, we reviewed the science of how dogs make our lives better. It's not just physical contact with dogs that gives us a boost; we can get one from virtual interactions as well. Researchers have found that some of the perks of being with a dog carry over to screen time.
I did some of this research myself. In my lab, we conducted a study with 1,880 subjects. They completed a standard survey to measure their sense of well-being, which captures the feeling of being happy, safe, calm, content, in control, and grateful. Then, they spent 5 minutes in one of three conditions: reading popular funny tweets, reading Donald Trump's Twitter feed, or reading tweets with cute pictures of dogs. Then, they took the well-being survey again so we could measure the change. All three conditions saw changes in well-being, but dog pictures delivered the biggest positive difference.
We found that well-being significantly declined after reading Trump's tweets—and this was true both for people who supported Trump and those who did not. Though this was not the focus of the study, it was likely because his tweets turned subjects' focus to upsetting issues. If you supported Trump, you were mad at the things he was mad about and if you didn't support him, you were upset by his statements.
In the other two conditions, well-being increased, but it went up significantly more after the dog condition. Dog pictures were the most powerful option for getting a quick well-being boost.
This echoes earlier work from Nittono et al who looked at "Kawaii," the Japanese word for cute. They also had subjects in their study look at different types of images, including cute baby animals with big eyes vs. less -cute adult animal pictures. They then performed tasks to measure attention and focus. Subjects in the "cute" group performed better, indicating that the time spent with cute animal photos could improve their focus and potentially their productivity as well.
So next time you find yourself looking at puppies online instead of responding to email, don't feel guilty. Just a few minutes may get you back on track and put you in a better mood, too.
Facebook/LinkedIn image: Intarapong/Shutterstock
Golbeck, J., & Colino, S. (2023). The Purest Bond. New York, NY: Atria Books.
Nittono, H., Fukushima, M., Yano, A., & Moriya, H. (2012). The power of kawaii: Viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus. PloS one, 7(9), e46362.
Golbeck, J. (2019, June). Dogs good, Trump bad: the impact of social media content on sense of well-being. In Proceedings of the 10th ACM Conference on Web Science (pp. 125-129).