If you enjoy taking quick breaks from work to watch cat videos online, you may be doing yourself a bigger favor than you think. A researcher at Indiana University Bloomington has just released a study detailing how watching cat videos doesn’t just boost viewers’ energy and positive emotions, but also decreases their negative feelings. Translation: spending a few minutes watching cute cats stalk the camera or play in a box can make you feel less stressed. So if a cat video makes you feel better about your overwhelming workload or boring homework, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking the time to destress with one (or, let’s be honest, two or three).
According to a news release from the university, assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick surveyed almost 7,000 people about their cat video-viewing habits and how the videos affect their mood. Bloomington resident Mike Bridavsky, who owns Lil Bub, a cat who’s very popular online, helped to distribute the survey to respondents via social media. Myrick explained the reasoning behind her interest in the topic, “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.” She added, “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.”
As with many popular Internet phenomena, there hasn’t been much academic work on why we love the things we do. “We all have watched a cat video online,” writes Myrick, “but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us. As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon.”
There were more than 2 million cat videos posted on YouTube in 2014, and those videos gathered almost 26 billion views. Additionally, cat videos had more views per video than any other category of YouTube content. Among the respondents to Myrick’s survey, the most popular destinations for viewing cat videos were Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed, and I Can Has Cheezburger.
In a paper titled, “Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?,” Myrick shared what she learned by surveying 7,000 cat video viewers. The respondents reported that they were more energetic and felt more positive after watching “cat-related online media” than before watching the videos. They experienced fewer negative emotions — like anxiety, annoyance, and sadness — after watching cat videos.
Interestingly, respondents said that they often viewed cat videos at work or while studying, and the pleasure that they experienced thanks to watching cat videos outweighed any guilt that they felt about procrastinating. Both cat owners and people with specific personality traits — such as agreeableness and shyness — were more likely than others to watch cat videos. And only about 25% of the cat videos that respondents watched were ones that they sought out, while the rest were ones that they happened upon while viewing other content.
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 afterward.” That suggests that not only can watching cat videos make you feel happier and less stressed, but watching one also makes you more likely to succeed at tackling that big project you’re putting off starting. That sounds like a win-win situation.