According to YouTube, 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. And 45 percent of the people posting those videos are uploading footage that features an animal—usually a cat. If you’re not one of the suppliers, odds are you’re a consumer. With more than two million videos and 26 billion views, cats are one of YouTube’s biggest categories. No one can say for sure, but pet food giant Friskies estimates that cat videos account for 15 percent of all Internet traffic (and I’m estimating that, singlehandedly, I’m responsible for at least another 10 percent, streaming videos on Netflix and binge watching House of Cards, 24, Dexter, The Blacklist, The Walking Dead, and a bunch of others).
So don’t feel bad if you’ve indulged in a few (or a few hundred) cat vids. They’re incredibly addicting. I’m not really a cat person, but this article took at least two hours longer to write than it usually does because I got sucked into the black hole inhabited by Grumpy Cat, Henri the French-speaking existentialist, Maru the Japanese box diver, and dozens of their mewing buddies.
Turns out that cat videos are more than just a guilty pleasure (and by “guilty,” I really do mean guilty. A lot of time people spend on their in-cat-uation is time they should have been doing something else—like working or studying). In fact, it may actually be good for you.
Researchers have consistently found that physically interacting with pets can have some very significant, positive effects on patients’ physical and emotional health. A variety of studies show a correlation between pet therapy and decreases in anxiety and depression, reduced behavioral problems, and lowered blood pressure and heart rate. But petting an animal who’s sitting on your lap is quite a bit different than going online and watching one jump onto a chandelier or run around the house with a paper bag over her head. Or is it?
Jessica Gall Myrick, a professor at Indiana University’s Media School, set out to answer that question. She surveyed nearly 7,000 cat-media consumers and found that after watching feline videos, people felt more energetic and experienced fewer negative emotions (annoyance, anxiety, and sadness) and more positive ones (contentment, happiness, and hope).
Myrick, whose results were recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, also found that the increase in positive emotions was more than enough to offset the feelings of guilt people felt when they’d used cat videos as a procrastination tool. “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,” Myrick said in a press release. Sharing those videos helped too, making “what had seemed like a waste of time a more worthwhile endeavor—the spreading of cheer and goodwill to others.”
People who tend to be more agreeable or shy are more likely than others to watch vids, as are cat owners. Interestingly, only a quarter of the videos people watch are ones they actually go looking for. The rest they stumble upon by chance.