Thursday, March 9, 2023

Positive Psychology: Cute Art

By Ty Hulse

The greatest value of art is in helping people emotionally and psychologically.  

Although often derided by art critics as kitsch, cute works of art have power to change the way people think, feel and act, and most often for the better.

Research into cute imagery by Steinnes, Blomster, et al. (2019) has found that cuteness evokes emotions of kama muta, which media psychology has shown can cause people to act more caring and kindly towards others, while also reducing stress and anxiety.

When paired with a strong active message such as “Recycle Now” cute art increases the likelihood people will take action (Wang and Patrick, 2017).

Of course, anything that can illicit feelings so easily in others can be hijacked for other purposes. A cute brand logo makes people more likely to forgive a company that does something wrong (Septiantoa and Kwon).

And “exposure to cuteness leads men to be more risk-seeking and women to be more risk-averse.” (Li, Yuan & Yan, Dengfeng)

What’s more it’s been shown that people work better when they can see pictures of cute things and are more likely to respond carefully to questions when there is a cute picture on the survey form, or on a test.

There are almost no works of so called great art which have such a powerful and immediate psychological impact on the viewers, and certainly few would actually cause people to act more kindly towards others.

There is a reason, after all, why so much of the internet thrives on cute.

People have a powerful desire to protect that which is small,  

Cuteness, seeming to have a will of its own, also demonstrates aggression by imposing demands. For example, it may demand that we allow it to submit to us. Its immediate visceral impact is often counteracted by the viewer’s sense of having been manipulated, arousing the viewer’s suspicions. It desperately awaits our evaluation of and interaction with it. It is a supplicant awaiting our judgment, a judgment that will give it power over us. Cuteness thereby engenders its own discipline by enforcing particular behaviors of the viewer; in turn, it engages and disciplines its viewer. Its disavowal of power is one of its powers. (Elizabeth Howie)

Cuteness therefore engenders primal emotions, which likely explains why cuteness is so often used in relation to objects of religious art. Claire Maria Chambers points out that Korean Buddhist temples have figures of small chubby monks and “temple devotees ritually bathe a statue of the Buddha as a small boy.” In America Precious Moments toys have become important to a number of Christians. These cute, innocent figurines, often include spiritual and biblical quotes. They are like children but better, “they also sincerely express experiences of comfort, love, and community in the face of the difficulties that the riddle of faith presents for thousands of consumers around the globe.” (Claire Maria Chambers)


Cute is for Adults

While we associate cute things with children, adults are more likely to have the need for nostalgia and the level of stress necessary to fully appreciate the emotions that cuteness elicits.

Cute things reduced stress in work environments. While children do homework that might require this, adults are often much more likely to suffer stress and anxiety in their daily lives.

Cute art can relax those who are stressed, anxious, and fatigued.

Both cuteness and awe have been shown to be connected to increased levels of prosociality and a sense of connectedness to others…

cuteness has been linked to stress reduction and, when paired over time with another stimulus, has also been shown to increase the quality of positive experience with paired stimuli.

….Awe has also been repeatedly linked to stress reduction specifically, but is also linked to more negative affect than cuteness…. Both awe and cuteness however, have the potential to contribute to an upward spiral in positive affect through repeated exposure.

 There are exceptions, however, as with all things. Those who work in healthcare or as online content moderators can suffer from ‘compassion fatigue.’ As a result online moderators who are forced to spend long periods of time caring and struggling with the worst of humanity become more anxious and stressed when seeing something cute as the need to protect builds stress in them.

Still, the presence of such strong emotional reactions shows how readily these images can have a physiological impact on those who witness them.  

So, yes, cute images have power, even if many would deride them.


Author links open overlay panelYuanLiaDengfengYanb

Li, Yuan & Yan, Dengfeng, 2021. "Cuteness inspires men’s risk seeking but women’s risk aversion," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 239-249.

Wang, T., Mukhopadhyay, A., & Patrick, V. M. (2017). Getting Consumers to Recycle “NOW”! When and Why Cuteness Appeals Influence Prosocial and Sustainable Behavior. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing36(2), 269–283.

Too cute to be bad? Cute brand logo reduces consumer punishment following brand transgressions Author links open overlay panelFelix Septiantoa Junbum Kwon

Awe Versus Aww: The Effectiveness of Two Kinds of Positive Emotional Stimulation on Stress Reduction for Online Content Moderators CHRISTINE L. COOK, National Chengchi University, Taiwan JIE CAI, New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA DONGHEE YVETTE WOHN, New Jersey Institute of Technology, US

Steinnes, Kamilla & Blomster Lyshol, Johanna & Seibt, Beate & Zickfeld, Janis & Fiske, Alan. (2019). Too Cute for Words: Cuteness Evokes the Heartwarming Emotion of Kama Muta. Frontiers in Psychology. 10. 387. 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00387.

Evaluation of Kawaii Feelings Caused by Stuffed Animals to Reduce Stress Michiko Ohkura, Hina Arashina, Takafumi Tombe & Peeraya Sripian