A Kitten a Day Keeps Distraction at Bay

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.
— Jessica Gall Myrick
Courtesy of Nicolas Suzor Looking at this kitten will help you focus on reading this article.

Courtesy of Nicolas Suzor

Looking at this kitten will help you focus on reading this article.

As an internet user, you have probably seen cute cat videos. The popularity of cat videos is one of the fascinating phenomena of the internet age and careers have literally been made in producing and disseminating them.

If cute cat videos are a guilty pleasure for you, I encourage you to renounce your guilt. Cat videos are actually good for your health! If you don’t enjoy the antics of Grumpy Cat or Maru, maybe it’s time you started.


The Healthy Choice

As of 2014 there were over 2 million cat videos on youtube with a collective 26 billion views. Researcher Jessica Gall Myrick wanted to explore the reasons for the prevalence of cat videos on the internet, so she surveyed around 7,000 people on their cat video habits and how their productivity and mood are affected by these videos. Not all of these video watchers were “cat people.” Only 36% of those surveyed reported being a cat person, while close to 60% said they liked both cats and dogs.

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore Grumpy cat doesn't approve of being used to improve your health.

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Grumpy cat doesn't approve of being used to improve your health.

The results were clear. People reported increases in positivity and energy after watching their favorite felines. Sadness and anxiety levels were decreased, along with other negative emotions. Even though some admitted to using cat videos to procrastinate on work or study, participants said that the positive response outweighed the guilt of time wasting.

On this matter, Myrick states “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.”


Not a Fluke

© Hasbro

© Hasbro

If you have skepticism over the self-reported nature of Myrick’s analysis, it’s time to set that skepticism aside. A study carried out at Hiroshima University in Japan was already lauding the effect of cute animals on our mental state three years prior to Myrick’s results. The Japanese researchers took a more experimental approach to the question of whether admiring cute animals might provide some sort of benefit.

They had research subjects perform tasks involving focus and manual dexterity (similar to the popular board game Operation). After the first trial, some participants were shown photos of cute baby animals. People that viewed baby animals performed better on the second round of the task than those that did not.

Next they ran a variation on the experiment. Instead of a task that could be associated with nurturing (you are helping a patient in Operation), they had participants look at numbers and determine how many times certain numbers repeated. Once more, some subjects were shown cute animal pictures prior to repeating the exercise while others were not. This time, the researchers added a third experimental condition: Showing pictures of delicious foods like steak and sushi.

Courtesy of Audrey Take a look at this baby squirrel. Your performance has now improved.

Courtesy of Audrey

Take a look at this baby squirrel. Your performance has now improved.

Or maybe this hairless kitten will do the trick

Or maybe this hairless kitten will do the trick

Just like the first experiment, those that viewed cute photos had enhanced performances. Those that viewed food or no pictures did about the same as in the first round. They concluded that looking at baby animals increases manual dexterity, attention, and ability to hone in on details.

In short, watching cat videos will not only make you happier, it will increase your mental functioning. With that in mind, I hereby recommend that next time you’re zoned out at work, don’t make yourself a cup of coffee. Watch a cat video instead. Or, since caffeine also increases attentiveness and stamina, maybe both.

 


Still not convinced? You don’t have to take our word for it. Watch this cat video and see for yourself!

- Kate Dzikiewicz, Paul Griswold Howes Fellow