Perhaps you are about to head home after a long day at work. Feeling a bit down and tired, you turn to YouTube and search for “cat.” Lo and behold, over 79 million cat videos to choose from flash on your screen. You click one video and before you know it, you have spent a good 30 to 60 minutes of your time just watching these silly little fur balls do crazy things like playing the keyboard in a funky shirt or jumping scared at the sight of cucumbers.
Did that thought make you smile?
You are not alone. There is a reason why there are millions of cat videos out there in the web. People search for it, and are obsessed with every little thing that these cats do.
Felines like Maru, Grumpy Cat, and Lil Bub are just some of the ‘Cats of Internet’ that have gained huge following by simply being themselves. In fact, videos of cats doing their usual rituals rake in thousands of views, likes, and shares on many social media platforms. This has actually become traffic-generating content for many websites and social media pages.
What is it about these cat videos that we find so entertaining? Why do most people tend to put off things that they have to do and instead spend a good deal of their time completely drawn to feline videos?
A study published in Computers of Human Behavior conducted by Jessica Gall Myrick found that there are specific personality types that are more predisposed to watch online cat videos. More and more people become obsessed with these videos because of the positive emotional state associated with it.
For her paper titled “Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?” Myrick, an assistant professor at Indiana University’s Media School, asked 6,827 individuals from an animal advocacy group on Facebook about their pet ownership, use of internet, video consumption, and their personality.
To properly identify how these cat videos affect the mood of the study participants, Myrick asked about their mood before and after watching. Interestingly, many of the participants related that they felt happier and that they feel lesser negative emotions of anxiety and guilt.
Myrick also pointed out that many of those who watched cat videos exhibited responses elicited by pet therapy. “Most of the literature on pet therapy shows that it reduces anxiety and can improve people’s mood,” explained Myrick. “That’s basically what I found in my survey.”
She explained that the prevalence of online cat-related media deserves huge attention. Many of those who obsessed with these types of content do not feel guilty that they are spending a lot of precious time watching videos than accomplishing things that they should be doing.
While the study is considered a preliminary report, many of its findings are consistent with earlier researches. One is the meta-analysis (PDF) of 49 studies where psychologists were able to establish that pet therapies produce tangible positive effects related to behavioral issues, medical issues, and emotional health.
Myrick’s study simply says that people watch cat videos because it allows them to feel good – a positive emotional response, which can be a temporary escape from the rigors of life. This can be further explained by the mood management theory, which purports that many people would turn to media to adjust or normalize their emotions. For instance, individuals who want to either maintain a positive mood or let go of a negative feeling may want to watch a feel-good movie. People have the tendency to commit to actions or activities that would allow them to veer away from something negative.
Another interesting point that Myrick’s paper reiterated is that individuals who are more inclined to spend time online are introverts – the same personality types that would prefer cats over dogs. Myrick’s survey found that most of the respondents scored higher in “shyness” and have lower emotional stability — ones that are most likely to regulate their moods by resorting to online media.
For how long will individuals stay obsessed with cats is a tough question to answer. The end of it may not even be close yet. In fact, many of these videos have been shared over and over again and are still watched because of the positive emotional response they elicit.
Well, there is really nothing wrong about spending a few minutes of your day to do something that would make you feel good. Regulating mood this way can even be a good self-therapy. Trying to resolve negative feelings through pet therapy is better than continuing on doing things that are stressing you out. Keep in mind not to procrastinate too much, though!