The Grapevine

Cute Cat (And Dog) Videos Boost Energy, Are Good For Our Mental Health

Lil Bub
Indiana's own "Lil Bub" is one of the more popular felines on the Internet. Photo by Mike Bridavsky/www.lilbub.com

We all have our own methods for dealing with despondency. Some get the blood pumping via exercise, while a more destructive lot turn to drugs and alcohol. Then there’s another cross-section of people who turn to cute videos of cats (and dogs, obviously) to deal with sadness and melancholy.

A recent study led by a researcher from the Indiana University Media School has found that the cute cat videos we go running to on the Internet in times of need actually help boost energy and promote positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings.

"Some people may think watching online cat videos isn't a serious enough topic for academic research, but the fact is that it's one of the most popular uses of the Internet today," assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick said in a statement. "If we want to better understand the effects the Internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can't ignore Internet cats anymore.”

Myrick, who oddly enough owns a pug but no cats, surveyed upward of 7,000 people regarding their fondness for cute cat videos on the Internet and how those videos affect their emotions. Sixty percent of respondents said they liked both cats and dogs, while 36 percent described themselves strictly as a “cat person.” Internet data revealed that over two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014, which fetched around 26 billion views, making them the most viewed category of YouTube content.

Based on responses from the survey, respondents were more energetic and had a more positive outlook after watching cute cat videos. Negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness, also dissipated following a cute cat video. The majority of respondents admitted to watching cute cat videos at work or while studying. However, the pleasure they got from these videos far outweighed the guilt they felt over procrastinating. Some studies even suggest that watching cute cat videos can boost our productivity

"Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward," Myrick explained.

While many of the people who watched cat videos were cat owners, some were people with certain personality traits, such as agreeableness and shyness. Twenty-five percent of cat video respondents watched were ones they deliberately looked for, while the remaining 75 percent stumbled across them. Myrick plans on furthering her research by exploring the possibility of using cat videos as low-cost pet therapy.

"We all have watched a cat video online, but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us," Myrick added. "As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon."

Most of the respondents were familiar with so-called celebrity cats, including Nala Cat, Grumpy Cat, and Lil Bub whose owner, Mike Bridavsky, helped distribute surveys on social media. British Airways recently launched its own Paws & Relax channel to help calm passengers who may be stressed out over flying.

Source: Myrick J. Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect? Computers in Human Behavior. 2015. 

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