The Science Behind Your Love Of Internet Cats

Photo: Dan Callister/REX Shutterstock.
This article was originally published on June 17, 2015.

For some, cat videos are simply a workday time-killer. For others, they are a movement. No matter your level of commitment, a recent study has arrived to say that there's no shame in your love for Lil' Bub, Grumpy Cat, Maru, or any online feline to whom you pledge your allegiance.

Conducted by Jessica Gall Myrick, PhD, of Indiana University, the study set out to explain why people watch cat videos in the first place, and how their viewing experience influences their mood. Dr. Myrick drew from the survey responses of 7,000 people, many of whom learned about the study via Lil' Bub's owner, Mike Bridavsky (he announced Dr. Myrick's plans for the survey on social media). In exchange for the publicity, Dr. Myrick donated 10 cents for every person surveyed to Lil' Bub's foundation.

Keeping in mind how this sample group came to be, there were a few consistencies within the group: About a third were self-described "cat people," about 25% of the participants chose the videos they viewed during the study based on preexisting personal preferences, and many of them shared certain personality traits, particularly agreeableness and shyness.

And, for those keeping score: Despite the fact that many of the participants were "cat people," the majority claimed to enjoy dog videos as well. The debate rages on.

Dr. Myrick accurately predicted that most people watch cat videos and consume other cat-related media as way of procrastinating. We probably could have told her that right off the bat — there aren't enough jobs that count watching the latest Yoda vine as a time-sensitive task. Dr. Myrick was also interested in observing whether watching cat videos instead of completing some other task made participants feel guilty or stressed; she found that the videos boost people's moods just enough that they do not feel negatively about taking the time to watch them in the first place. In fact, most participants rated their emotional states as more positive after watching a video than before.

From this, Dr. Myrick suggests that "even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional payoff may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward." So, unpause that YouTube clip and get back on Reddit, because cat videos are — to an extent — good for you.
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