Cat Videos: Bloomington, Indiana's own Lil Bub is one of the more popular felines on the Internet. (Photo by Mike Bridavsky/www.lilbub.com)Citizen Science Health Zoology 

Cat Videos Boost Energy, Good Feelings

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Do you get a warm, fuzzy feeling after watching cat videos online? If so, that emotional effect may be more profound than you realize.

The Internet phenomenon of watching cat videos, from Lil Bub to Grumpy Cat, apparently does more than simply entertain. It boosts viewers’ energy and positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings, according to a new study from Indiana University Media School.

Can a Cat Video a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

The study, by assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and their subsequent moods. Myrick realizes that studying how online cat videos affect viewers may sound silly, but explains that we might be drawn to cat videos for the same kind of positive impact achieved by pet therapy.

“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,” Myrick says. “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.”

Have You Watched Your Cat Videos Today?

Internet data show there were more than 2 million cat videos posted on YouTube in 2014, with almost 26 billion views. Cat videos had more views per video than any other category of YouTube content.

“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,” adds Myrick, who owns a dog, but no cats.

In Myrick’s study, the most popular sites for viewing cat videos were Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed, and I Can Has Cheezburger.

Of the participants in the study, only 36 percent described themselves as a “cat person,” while about 60 percent said they liked both cats and dogs.

Digging into the Study

Participants in Myrick’s study reported the following:

  • They were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • They had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • They often view cat videos while working or studying.
  • The pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.
  • Cat owners and people with certain personality traits, such as agreeableness and shyness, were more likely to watch cat videos.
  • About 25 percent of the cat videos they watched were ones they specifically sought out; the rest were ones they stumbled upon.
  • They were familiar with many so-called “celebrity cats,” such as Nala Cat and Henri, Le Chat Noir.

Overall, the response to watching cat videos was largely positive, suggesting that there may be more to this phenomenon that mere procrastination at work.

“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 says.

The results also suggest that future work could explore how online cat videos might be used as a form of low-cost pet therapy, she continues.

For each participant who took the survey, Myrick donated 10 cents to Lil Bub’s foundation, raising almost $700. The foundation, Lil Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA, has raised more than $100,000 for needy animals.

This research was published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior. Lil Bub’s owner, Mike Bridavsky lives in Bloomington, Indiana and helped distribute the survey via social media.

Image: Bloomington, Indiana’s own Lil Bub is one of the more popular felines on the Internet. (Photo by Mike Bridavsky/www.lilbub.com)

EH Science translates complex research findings into accessible insights on science, nature, and society. For the latest science news, follow on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or subscribe to our science newsletter!

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