Can pictures of cute puppies and kittens improve test performance?

Researchers from Hiroshima University have published a paper titled “The Power of Kawaii:  Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus” in the open access journal PLOS One.

According to the abstract, “three experiments were conducted to examine the effects of viewing cute images on subsequent task performance.”

The abstract continues,

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).

That’s right – degree of cuteness is the main parameter in this study.

I wondered whether the Hiroshima findings could have any application in my own class.  So this morning before my weekly quiz, I showed pictures of cute puppies using my testing room’s computer and projector (I need to attribute these pictures, right?  I used Google Images and keyed in “cute puppies”.)  I regret to report that no effect (a Cute Puppy Picture Enhancement Effect?) was evident in the results of the quiz.  In fact, while the puppies were on the screen, I observed the faces of my students and was easily able to identify many students on whom the Cute Puppy Effect did not seem to be acting.

But let’s carry this a little bit farther.  What if pictures of cute puppies and kittens could improve scores on high stakes exams like the FCAT or the SAT?  It could be as important as the result that since teenagers like money, paying them for correct answers on the 12th grade NAEP exams significantly boosts scores.  This was a big deal because researchers had long wondered why 12th grade NAEP scores were so much weaker compared to expectations than NAEP results at the 4th and 8th grade levels.

Go figure.

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