Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Power of Kawaii: How cute and squishy things influence us

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This year has was anything but cute. It has been optimistic at times, but above all unpredictable, tumultuous and painful. But cute? Far from there.

Enter the timeline cleanup. You may have seen their: photos from social networks, usually of adorable animals or babies, intended to disturb your diet. The never-ending news cycle unfolding on social media –and in our personal lives“May leave us discouraged and desensitized. A timeline cleanse is meant to interrupt this cycle with a respite from the chaos.

“I think kawaii, or cute feelings, reminds us of the human connection that we sometimes forget, ”says Hiroshi Nittono, director of the cognitive psychophysiology laboratory at Osaka University.

Nittono is a kawaii researcher, that is, he studies the Japanese concept of cuteness and how we experience it. His research has shown that looking at kawaii pictures, like pictures of puppies or kittens (or baby alpacas, maybe?) helps us focus and pay attention to detail, improves our attention, and leads to better job performance.

“Kawaii things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior,” Nittono original Study 2012 reported.

In Western culture, we have come to think of kawaii as a synonym for cute. In Japan, where the kawaii aesthetic has been its own pop culture phenomenon for decades, the word is a bit more complex. Nittono says the Japanese word kawaii was originally an affective adjective that expressed feelings towards an object. “In Japanese, you can say ‘feel kawaii’,” he adds. Visually, kawaii is linked to what researchers call baby schedule“A big head, round face and big eyes – but kawaii involves the other senses too. In one paper published in the journal Universal access, Researchers have reported that people also qualify certain sounds as cute, and those sounds tend to be high-pitched, like the chirping of a baby bird. Kawaii isn’t always what we would traditionally describe as cute. Ugly or weird things can also elicit kawaii feelings, a concept called kimo-kawaiior “very cute”.

Simply put, Nittono says, kawaii is the “cute emotion” you feel in the presence of something that triggers that emotion. Kawaii is what requires you to pinch a baby’s cheeks or cuddle a puppy. Kawaii influences our feelings and behavior in other ways as well, he says. It has a calming and healing effect, for example. It also makes us soft, more malleable and open to requests.

Kawaii not only makes you want to physically kiss the cute thing, but also activates an instinctive need to protect it. And this protective feeling is perhaps the reason why kawaii makes us more attentive and focused on tasks. In one Study 2009, the participants performed better a detailed task (the electronic board game Surgery) when shown cute pictures. In his own research, Nittono and his colleagues discovered similar results. “Seeing cute pictures of baby animals inspires motivation to act lovingly and responsibly to protect them,” he explains. “This idea argues that weak and helpless, yet cute, entities trigger healing behavior in the viewer.” Cute things make us feel protected, and when we are protective we can naturally be more focused, present, and caring.

Nittono’s research hypothesizes that kindness might trigger what’s called approach motivation, which is a push toward a positive stimulus. Approach motivation allows us to better focus on systematic processes that require us to be careful, such as driving, completing tasks at work, or playing an Operation game.

Engineers, advertisers and developers have taken advantage of this phenomenon, using kawaii to manipulate user experience and consumer behavior. Researchers call it cute engineering. It is a way to harness positive feelings and emotions to “motivate, engage and shape user behavior in a positive way”, written Owen Noel Newton Fernando, Senior Lecturer at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Sometimes cute engineering is subtle, but it’s often pretty obvious. Engineers use kawaii in the field of robotics, for example – the cuter the robot, the more humans will want to engage with it.


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