Looking at Pictures of Dogs Improves Well-Being
Last week, I wrote about how cute things can make you more productive. This week, we’re going to look at how your sense of well-being can improve simply by looking at pictures of dogs online!
Well-being measures how happy, safe, calm, content, in-control, and grateful you feel. It may seem obvious that reading distressing news may reduce your sense of well-being while seeing calming, encouraging posts may increase it. However, no one had studied how this played out online. We decided to analyze this in my lab.
We had 1,880 participants in our study. Each took a survey called PEECE that measures well-being. This survey has 12 statements that begin with “I feel ” and are followed by aspects of well-being: relaxed, valued, safe, calm, cared for, at ease, like smiling, energized, content, in control, informed, and thankful. Subjects rate each feeling on a five-point scale from 1 ( not at all ) to 5 ( extremely). The test is scored by averaging their answers.
Then, we divided the subjects randomly into three groups. Group 1 spent five minutes looking at popular funny posts on Twitter. Group 2 spent five minutes looking at cute pictures of dogs. Group 3 spent five minutes reading Donald Trump‘s Twitter feed. No one knew the other conditions in the study; they were only aware of their own group.
After their five minutes were up, subjects re-took the PEECE survey so we could see if their well-being changed.
There were significant changes in all three groups. Subjects who looked at Trump’s tweets saw a significant decline in their well-being. When we separated out Trump supporters from non-supporters, we saw declines in both groups, though the population of Trump-supporters in our survey was small enough that we couldn’t achieve significant results. However, whether you support Trump or not, his Twitter feed is often full of angry posts. If you do not support him, those posts may make you angry and decrease your well-being. If you do support him, the posts still may decrease your well-being because you are angry at the same things he is angry about. This result doesn’t mean to avoid Trump’s tweets, but it does suggest that the type of content he shares is unlikely to make anyone feel happier, more grateful, and calmer.
Subjects who looked at popular posts and dogs both saw increases in well-being, and those who looked at dogs saw the largest well-being increase. While our study was not designed to measure specifically if dogs were the best thing for everyone’s well-being, the results here do echo previous research that shows people’s mental health can get both short and long-term boosts from seeing cute things (like dogs).
If you’re not a dog person, find something adorable that you love. Curate a social media list for yourself that is fed with that kind of content. Science says it will make you feel happier after just a few minutes of browsing.