Is watching cat videos online one of your guilty pleasures? No need to be sheepish about it — you're not alone. Some of these videos have garnered hundreds of thousands, even millions, of views. And now, researchers have found that there could actually be a health and productivity benefit for those watching.
An Indiana University researcher found that the Internet phenomenon seems to boost energy and positive thoughts.
Assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick surveyed nearly 7,000 people about their cat video viewing habits and their moods. Based on her analysis, there were more than 2 million cat videos on YouTube in 2014. With a collective 26 billion or so views at the time, that's more than any other category on the video-sharing website.
"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. "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.
"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," she said. "As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon."
If you are for some reason unfamiliar with the cat video phenomenon, here's an example:
These are some key findings from Myrick's research about cat video watchers:
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.
They often view Internet cats at work or during studying.
The pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.
Cat owners and people with certain personality traits, such as agreeableness and shyness, were more likely to watch cat videos.
About 25 percent of the cat videos they watched were ones they sought out; the rest were ones they happened upon.
They were familiar with many so-called “celebrity cats,” such as Nala Cat and Henri, Le Chat Noir.
Myrick said the results of her survey suggest that watching cat or other viral animal videos could be a low-cost form of pet therapy.
"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," she said.
Myrick's study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.