If so, then why am I not one of the most productive people I know?
A story in this week’s WSJ tells about the work of Prof. Jennifer Ragsdale, a University of Tulsa industrial-organizational psychologist, and her research team who are studying whether surfing the internet for cute baby-animal pictures makes you more productive at the office.
OK, there’s the catch, I don’t do that kind of mindless web surfing. Sure, I’ve watched a funny dog or cat video now and then, but it’s not the type of thing I actively seek out when I’m wasting time on the web.
Prof. Ragsdale is early into what she expects will be a multiyear study in which about 150 subjects will perform a stressful task, such as editing, while fielding hostile online comments about a co-worker. During breaks, subjects will do stress-reduction activities before returning to work: 1/3 will meditate; 1/3 will likely do puzzles; 1/3 will watch a slideshow of adorableness. The researchers will score the groups to see which activity best reduces stress and boosts performance.
The slideshow of adorableness is where looking at cute baby animal photos online comes into play.
Of the three activities mentioned, looking at those photos would probably be the least desirable for me.
Although I’ve only done meditation a few times, I am aware of the research that indicates how beneficial it can be for reducing stress.
And I’ve written before about how much I enjoy puzzles, so I can see such an activity calming me down (unless of course I can’t solve the puzzle; in that case, I won’t get any work done because allI’ll be thinking about is how to solve the puzzle.)
There have been similar studies in the past; according to a New York Times report from 2006 on several studies of cuteness, “cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine.”
One of the challenges of the new study was identifying what constitutes scientifically cute. That job fell initially to a graduate student who googled “cute dog images,” “cutest cats” and the like. Too many brown bunnies popped up, so she specified “cute white rabbits” to round out the 81 images. Then she found a similar number of neutral images—a chair, boots, a surgical team.
The researchers then hired some 100 anonymous survey-takers at $4 each from a crowdsourcing worker marketplace. The survey-takers rated each image on a scale from zero to 100 and described their feelings. Among the options: angry, disgusted, uneasy, joyous and relaxed.
The highest-rated baby animal image was of a gray kitten up on her hind legs, seemingly in prayer, scoring 84.82.
The lowest rated image was of a black funnel cloud, scoring 4.85.
The grad assistant cut the list to the top 45 baby-animal images, and the research team sat down late last year to pick the final images for the study when it begins next fall.
One image that divided some members of the team was this puppy.
Even though it scored 82.70. Some people suggested that it almost looked like a baby seal, and one person said he found the picture annoying, not calming.
There was also a Catch-22 with the selection process.
The haggling over what’s cute left some researchers stressed, with one researcher claiming, “It was relaxing in the sense we got to look at the pictures, but it was stressful when people disagreed.”
I have to agree that the two photos shown are quite cute. I’m just not sure that simply looking at them and similar images are going to relieve my stress, but I will be curious what the results tell us.
So, unfortunately, at this time I can’t offer you a recommendation on whether mindless web surfing.
If such uncertainty makes you feel more stressed, my apologies…