Interestingly enough, a group of cognitive psychologists at Japan's Hiroshima University found that browsing through cute photos, such as those of baby animals like kittens, serves as a productivity booster. Although the lolcats peak is long gone, there's still a significant wave of viral enthusiasm for sharing and collecting photos of cute animals - a practice often times associated with procrastination.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers separated 48 volunteer students into two groups, and asked them to play game similar to Milton Bradley's "Operation." After the first session of the game, students from the first group were shown various photos of cute baby animals, while the second was shown photos of adult animals. The first group fared better.
In a second test, the researchers split the volunteers into three groups. This time they were tasked with remembering and stating the number of times a given number appeared in a sequence. Again, a group was shown photos of baby animals, another photos of adult animals, and the other was shown photos of "pleasant foods," including sushi and steak. Alright, moving on, apparently the volunteers which were entertained with photos of cute baby animals significantly outperformed participants from the other two study groups.
In a third and final test, 36 right-handed university students who did not participate in the previous experiments were selected. Again, these were divided into three groups, each stimulated by photos of baby animals, adult animals and neutral (food), respectively, and asked to perform a reaction time (RT) task. Participants were asked to indicate whether a stimulus presented on a cathode ray tube screen contained the letter H or the letter T by pressing the left or right key on a response pad as quickly and as accurately as possible. Curiously, here the cute animal viewing group scored the lowest. The researchers write that "the narrowed attention may be beneficial to performance on tasks that require carefulness in the motor and perceptual domains, such as the tasks used in the first two experiments."
The scientists theorize that this may be because caring for baby animals (nurturance) requires very tender treatment of the animals, as well as “careful attention to the targets’ physical and mental states as well as vigilance against possible threats to the targets.”
That is to say, in other words, that browsing through cute photos of kittens might boost productivity in a limited array of fields, and most likely turning this into a habit leads to procrastination, which we all know how well it goes hand in hand with productivity...
Still, I for one found the study very interesting, and you can all read it in much broader detail in the online version of the journal PLoS One, where it was published.