Cats and Science
Leila the cat watching cat videos on my laptop
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The Research Is in: Watching Cat Videos Is Good for You

A fancy study with a large name proves it's beneficial -- but you already knew that.

s.e. smith  |  Oct 2nd 2015


If you don’t have a cat handy, watching a cat video is the next best thing — key for those unfortunate souls who have to work in offices that aren’t teeming with cats, as all offices should be. And you may have heard that cat videos are procrastination tool No. 1, or a frivolous use of your time, but, as it turns out, cat videos aren’t just enshrined in Internet pop culture.

They’re also good for you.

Researcher Jessica Gall Myrick of Indiana University Bloomington went in deep on cat videos, and her study “Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?” is out in Volume 52 of Computers and Human Behavior. You might think I’m dangling the proverbial string toy when I say that this is groundbreaking science, but it actually is, because while we all joke about cat videos and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that they have an emotional benefit, this is the first time someone has started to quantify the effect of cat videos on our lives.

Myrick (who freely admits to watching cat videos, though she doesn’t live with any cats herself), says that: “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. 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.”

She set out to explore the cat video in detail, and what she found was surprising, even to someone who watches a lot of cat videos. As it turns out, I’m not alone: As of 2014, there were two million cat videos on YouTube, with 26 billion total views. That averages out to more views per video than any other kind of content on YouTube. And we haven’t even touched Vimeo and other video distribution systems yet. She notes that there are multiple film festivals dedicated entirely to cat videos and related cat media, and there are, of course, scores of famous cats online, including the beloved and now-deceased Colonel Meow and Grumpy Cat.

In fact, one such celebrity cat proved to be instrumental to the study: Lil BUB and her guardian helped to distribute the survey and encourage people to take it, in a wonderfully recursive display of cat people helping science by helping cat people help science.

Leila the cat viewing cat videos

Leila settles in to watch Buzzfeed’s “People Who Hate Cats Meet Kittens”

Nearly 7,000 completed survey responses were incorporated into the study, which found that people who are shy, introverted, and agreeable tend to be fond of watching cat videos — and unsurprisingly, cat people (and those who deign to like dogs too) are the biggest consumers of cat videos. Things start to get really interesting when you delve into the science of how and why people tune in for our furry friends, though. As someone who regularly scours the Internet for cute cats, I found out that I was in the minority — three quarters of respondents happen upon cat videos while casually surfing, though Myrick suggests this may be the result of building up networks with an affinity for cats, thereby increasing the probability of finding cat-related content on social networks and news feeds. But I (and Catster readers) do fall into another study majority: Cat lovers, especially those who volunteer with or donate to organizations that promote feline welfare, are especially into cat media.

After viewing cat videos, survey participants reported that they felt less stressed, less anxious, and more energetic. Overall negative emotions tended to drop, while positive emotions increased, indicating that cat videos provide a healthy boost to your sense of well-being. All trends seem positive, until you hit the eternal question: If we view cat videos to procrastinate (guiltily raises hand), do we feel bad about doing so? Many procrastination tools are viewed as “guilty pleasures,” and Myrick was curious to know if cat videos fell into that category.

Viewers were asked questions like: “I viewed cat videos and/or photos online to find an excuse for not doing something else” and offered what’s known as a Likert Scale — seven statements from “does not apply” to “fully applies.”Myrick found that a mean of 2.95 respondents (SD 1.92) agreed that they took to cat-related media to procrastinate, which is lower than I anticipated. And it turns out that when people do hit up the Internet for a good dose of cat, they don’t experience much of a sense of guilt after taking a little time off from work to watch a cat video or two. In fact, they tend to feel less guilty than when they started.

Snuggling with Leila the cat

Leila would prefer that I not.

With the news that cat videos carry emotional benefits for viewers, there’s even less reason to feel guilty about your video habits, so be sure to pass a copy of the study along to your boss — unless, of course, you write for Catster, in which case you’re already set. If your boss is still skeptical about the effects of cat videos on your emotional well-being and productivity, try this 2012 study on “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus.”

Science, 2: Uptight bosses: 0.

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About the author: s.e. smith is a cat-owned writer, editor, and agitator living in Northern California with felines Loki and Leila. While not mediating cat fights, s.e. explores a wide variety of subjects in writing and elsewhere, in addition to enjoying reading like a fiend and baking like an angel. Follow smith on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.