Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love cat videos? I’m not even a cat person, and I find cat videos to be extremely entertaining. Even if you don’t love cats or cat videos, you have to admit that internet cats have become quite a cultural phenomenon. In 2014, there were about 2 million cat videos on YouTube, with an average of 12,000 views per video.
An article by Jessica Gall Myrick, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior in 2015, attempted to answer the question of why we love cat videos so much. This exploratory study investigated the characteristics and motivations of online cat media watchers, as well as the effects of cat-related media on consumers. The author analyzed survey data for 6,795 participants, recruited through a snowball sampling process, who self-identified as viewers of online cat videos or photos. The brief online survey inquired about the participant’s cat ownership, personality traits, emotional well-being, cat-media viewing habits, and how cat videos make them feel.
The results showed that if you enjoy being around cats, are a cat owner (current or former), or just spend a lot of time online, you’re more likely to watch a cat video. More frequent viewing was tied to the personality traits of shyness, agreeableness, and anxiousness. The survey found that watching cats online often resulted in greater energy, higher self-reported levels of positive emotions, and lower levels of negative emotions. However, if the viewer was procrastinating, watching cat videos was a “guilty pleasure” that evoked both positive and negative emotions.
The positive emotions associated with cat videos suggests that online cat media could potentially serve as a type of digital pet therapy. For people who might not be able to participate in pet therapy because of allergies or financial reasons, watching videos of cats (or other animals) might serve as a feasible alternative. However, Dr. Myrick states that additional research is needed to test this theory.
Dr. Myrick was recently interviewed on The Measure of Everyday Life, a podcast and public radio program that airs on WNCU. In this interview, she explained that cat videos might be popular because they’re relatable and allow people to connect the videos to their everyday lives. Cat videos may also provide viewers with social contact. In her survey of cat video viewers, she found that over half the participants shared videos through social media. So, while the video might be about cats, the behavior really speaks to our social nature and how our emotions can be shaped through interactions with others.
At this point, I would like to call your attention to Dexter, the handsome orange cat pictured above. My group of friends have spent quite a lot of time sharing pictures and videos of Dexter doing funny activities. Until now, I really didn’t think much of it, but this is a good example of Dr. Myrick’s research in action. We enjoy looking at pictures and videos of Dexter because it makes us happy or relieves stress, and we then go on to share those pictures and videos through various forms of social interactions because we want to share that emotion with others. Hopefully, seeing Dexter has made your day a little brighter, too!