Imagine a calico kitten playing with a ball of string. Are you picturing it? Good, now you are—by a small but measurable margin—better prepared to perform surgery.

A new study by Gary Sherman, Jonathan Haidt and James Coan suggests that exposure to cuteness can improve performance. Students who watched a slideshow with pictures of puppies and kittens scored higher playing the board game “Operation,” which requires manual dexterity, than students who watched a slideshow with pictures of mature cats and dogs. Although the effect was most pronounced in women, it also exists in men. The authors speculate that evolution favors those who are more careful in the presence of their young.