The Internet phenomenon of watching cat videos, from Li’l Bub to Grumpy Cat, does more than simply entertain: it boosts viewers’ energy and positive emotions and decreases negative feelings, according to a new study by an Indiana University Media School assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick (who owns a pug, but no cats).
Myrick surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and how it affects their moods. “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 said.
“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,” Myrick adds. “As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon.
“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.”
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.
In Myrick’s study, the most popular sites for viewing cat videos were Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed and I Can Has Cheezburger/LOLcats.
Participants in Myrick’s study reported:
- 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.
- The pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.
- About 25 percent of the cat videos they watched were ones they sought out; the rest were ones they happened upon.
“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,” Myrick said.
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 said.
For each participant who took the survey, Myrick donated 10 cents to Li’l Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA, which has raised more than $100,000 for needy animals.