Watching Cat Videos Lowers Stress, Increases Productivity at Work

PetMD Editorial
Published: June 18, 2015
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Like those other guilty pleasures that are actually good for you, dark chocolate, cheese, naps, and selfies, it turns out that watching videos of cats will boost your brain health, too. 

Recent research into the growing trend of viewing cat videos during work hours, which appears at first glance to be a simple procrastination tactic, has turned up results that may soon have your boss ordering mandatory cat video breaks.

Dr. Jessica Gallall Merrick, an assistant professor at the Media School at Indiana University, specializes in research on “the impact of emotions on media processes and effects, with an emphasis on how media use can lead to beneficial and prosocial outcomes.”

For the cat video study, Dr. Merrick wanted to find out whether viewing internet cat videos have the same type of positive effect as pet therapy, and whether some viewers feel worse after watching cat videos because they feel guilty for putting off tasks?

In a press release from Indiana University Bloomington, Dr. Myrick is quoted saying 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.” In explanation of the relevance of researching this behavior, she explained that “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.”

The numbers back that up. According to the date cited in the study, more than 2 million cat videos were posted on YouTube in 2014. With almost 26 billion views, cat videos are the most popular type of video on YouTube, even more popular than dancing babies. The most popular sites for viewing cat videos were Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed, and I Can Has Cheezburger.

Using social media as a platform, the study surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and how it affects their moods.

What Dr. Myrick found is that watching cat videos is an overall positive experience. Amongst her findings:

  • Viewers often view Internet cats at work or during studying.
  • Viewers were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • Viewers had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness, after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • The pleasure people 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.

“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,” Dr. Myrick said.

Of the study participants, “36 percent described themselves as a 'cat person,' while about 60 percent said they liked both cats and dogs.” Dr. Myrick herself has a pug, but no cats.

In answer to one of the initial questions that inspired the study, does viewing internet cat videos have the same type of positive effect as pet therapy, Dr. Meyrick said the results do suggest that further studies could explore how cat videos can be used as a form of pet therapy.

The study results weren't limited to academia. For each participant who took the survey, Dr. Myrick donated 10 cents to Lil Bub’s foundation, raising almost $700. According to the press release, the foundation, Lil Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA, has raised more than $100,000 for needy animals.

Dr. Myrick’s findings were published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior: Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect.

Some of her previous published research includes the emotional effectiveness of a YouTube PSA about skin cancer, and whether PSAs “take a bite out of Shark Week… [by] juxtaposing environmental messages with violent images of shark attacks.”

Image: Lil’ Bub / Mike Bridavsky/ via Indiana University Bloomington

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Indiana University Bloomington