If you enjoy watching cute cat videos, you are not alone. Cat videos are the most popular video type on YouTube. In 2014, over 2 million cat videos were posted on the social platform and garnered over 26 billion views. Scientifically, it has been shown that watching cat videos is actually good for our mental health.
The trend of watching cat videos is so prevalent that it has inspired academic research. Dr Jessica Gall Myrick, an assistant professor at the Media School at Indiana University, conducted a study surveying almost 7,000 people to find out whether viewing cat videos on the Internet could have the same positive effects as pet therapy, and whether the activity causes guilt in viewers who use it as a method of procrastination.
The study discovered that people:
Some of us may regard the research as "fluffy" or with little scientific grounds, but it was important and timely according to Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at Flinders University, Owen Churches.
"Cats on the Internet are part of the world that we have created for ourselves and now occupy. I think it’s limiting of psychologists to not study phenomena that are manifestly part of our psychological world," he said. "The author's suggestion that this is potentially a digital pet therapy is quite accurate and quite a sensible link to make."
Exploring the link between feelings of guilt and enjoyment related to obsessively watching cats online, Myrick notes: "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 afterwards."
One study led by James McNulty of Florida State University found that you are more likely to be happily married just by looking at images of cute animals. The study involved 144 couples who had been married for less than 5 years. They were asked to view a stream of images 3 times a week for 6 weeks. One group was shown images that included their partner paired with visuals of cute animals while the other saw pictures of their partners paired with neutral objects. The findings surprised the researchers, as the group shown the cute animals reported more positive automatic responses to their spouses and greater satisfaction with their marriages.
Several studies have found that watching positive videos such as cute cat videos has been found to be one of the strongest good-mood-inducers, more so than music. They can lead to "upward positivity spirals", add to life satisfaction and resilience to stress, which makes them well worth watching, at least in moderation.
In a controlled study, Japanese researcher Hiroshi Nittono found that study participants who looked at grumpy cat videos and other cute baby animal imagery experienced increased productivity as well as a boost in mood compared to those who watched videos of adult animals or neutral images. The cute videos also helped subjects to narrow their focus.
Considering the importance of stress management and emotional self-care for our mental health and resilience, perhaps spending time watching the odd cat video may not be as much of a time waster as you think. However, if you find yourself experiencing stress levels beyond your control, you should consider seeking the help of a medical professional to manage your mental health.