What Is It About Cat Videos?


A screen shot of a funny and distracting cat video.

Ranim Hijazi

In an era when information is at your sight at the tap of a paw, one of the most crucial and fur-midable advancements of humanity rose to fame in the 1990s: Cat videos. Undeniably, a ten-second clip of a cat toppling off a table somehow boosts your serotonin. Professionals rose from around the globe to conduct studies concerning the science behind the phenomenon to find one common cat-clusion: Cat videos are free enhancers to a happier life. 

There are over two million cat videos on YouTube alone, making up 2% of all existing videos on the platform. Jessica Gall Myrick, a media researcher at Indiana University, conducted a study on “Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?” After surveying nearly 7000 internet users, she found that the “results support a conceptual model arguing that the happiness gained from viewing Internet cats can moderate the relationship between procrastination motives, guilt, and enjoyment.” Procrastination naturally leads to feelings of guilt and regret. However, when the act of procrastinating involves watching cat videos, the enjoyment reduces guilt, turns regret into satisfaction, and allows for a better mood in the workplace.

Such gratification can likewise stem from viewing cat-like figures such as Hello Kitty or Pikachu with large eyes and disproportionately larger heads. In the first section of an experiment led by researcher Hiroshi Nittono at Hiroshima University in Japan, around 48 college students were asked to participate in an operation game where they had to use tweezers to pluck out tiny parts of the “patient.” The students that looked at cute animal images were witnessed to have improved their “subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus,” Nittono writes. There are four types of attentional focus: broad, narrow, external, and internal. Narrowing the attention span, in this context, refers to narrow external, which has a single object focus. The images allowed for a higher focus on individual, tedious tasks. Animated cartoons which involve these characters are highly popular for the same reason: They attract attention and relieve stress.

Finding larger heads and eyes more capturing is known as the “baby schema.” Humans have always been predisposed to baby-like and purr-ty features. Sure, those traits can be found in other infant animals and some may prefer them over cats. But, undeniably, cats are the most iconic. While dogs may be categorized under chivalrous descriptions such as “loyal” and “a man’s best friend,” cats are found to be more intriguing as they are reserved and sly. They move unpredictably, set boundaries with humans, and are inherently elusive. While dogs and other animals may chase, cats naturally attract. Cats are society’s catnip.

Their independence, alongside sass and body aerobics, making them almost liquid-solid matter and cat-hletic, are what gain the views. Their behavior transcends into unique appearances through cartoonists’ interpretations such that we have icons starting from the first cartoon cat, Felix the Cat, to the most famous one to date, Garfield. There are hundreds of other famous cartoons that represent cats’ abominably hysterical, and claw-some, personalities such as The Cheshire Cat, Tom (Tom & Jerry), Sylvester (Looney Tunes), Talking Cat (Rick and Morty), and The Pink Panther, to name a few. However, when they are not the main focus, they usually take upon the roles of the witty character’s sidekick, or familiar, most likely a witch’s companion. Salem, for example, from Sabrina The Teenage Witch, is a talking cat which portrays hilarious sarcasm and wit. Hermione Granger, from Harry Potter, is accompanied by a cat and regarded as the smartest witch of her age. Witches are companions of nature and animals; nonetheless, they were seen as evil and cats became evil by association. Over time, people learned to get over the empty claims and appreciate the cats of the world.

Cat videos could very well be deemed as “digital therapy” for their salubrious impacts on humans. They have made their long journey through hiss-tory and have reached a point where they are never more than a whisker away from paw’s reach. Whether they are found in a furr-ari or below a striped red and white hat, frequent doses of cat videos reduce annoyance, anxiety, and increase relief and productivity. They achieve so by allowing the person to slow down and relax, increasing performance on specifically tedious tasks. Their popularity stems from their appeal to the “baby schema” as well as owning their own purrsonality, which animals such as dogs may fail to do. As someone who wishes they owned a cat, videos of them are second best in achieving similar effects.