Why do we so love cat videos?
Yes, we do – so much so that we might fairly claim that cats have taken over the interent. In fact the Museum of Moving Images in New York has an exhibition on exactly that topic. It shows the very first cat images that trickled onto the internet all the way the torrential flood which we have today. In the United Kingdom alone there are around 4 million cat images shared every day – or to put it another way, people share pictures of their cats over twice as often as they share pictures of themselves. You could watch ten cat videos every day on YouTube and, assuming that no-one loaded any more videos after the day you started watching, you would have seen them all in 4,219 years time. There are an awful lot of cat videos out there. In fact of the 300 hours of videos that are uploaded on to YouTube every minute of every day, an estimated 13 hours feature cats. So in fact, you could watch ten cat videos per minute, and still be falling way behind - even without toilet breaks.
So why cats? Dog videos don't make up a fraction of that amount of gigabytage, yet it seems that we just can't get enough of cats. Well, it seems that one reason we like to watch cat videos is that doing so makes us feel good. At least that's according to a paper published in Computers in Human Behavior (see reference below)
'Results reveal significant relationships between viewing and personality types and demonstrate conceptual nuances related to the emotional benefits of watching Internet cats,' the study summarized. The 'emotional benefits' described include a lessening of anger and anxiety and a more hopeful and optimistic outlook.
So next time the boss catches you watching cat videos at work, you can tell him that it is a scientifically-proven form of stress relief. Interestingly, the type of relaxation that many people get from watching cat videos is the same as they would get from actually petting a cat.
There are also numerous 'cat communities' online, and some sociologists believe that these have the same function as real-life Dog Parks have for the owners of canine pets. Any cat owner can give you numerous reasons why an actual physical cat-park would be a serious disaster, but an online community gives people the same chance to socialize, discuss their pets, and generally interact with their fellow humans.
There is also the fact that cats online are cute. Why? Can't dogs be even cuter? Apparently not, and there is a reason for this. It's because cats are alien to us in a way that dogs are not. Dogs are – to put it bluntly – bred to love humans and obey their orders. Cats – to also put it bluntly – are not. So when we see a cat acting in an unexpectedly human way this evokes an 'awwww' factor, because that's not how we expect the cat to behave.
(And in fact that's often not how the cat is behaving - people tend to give human motives for cat behaviour. For example, one video shows a cat wanting to go outside, then in, and then out again while miawing the whole time. Rather than the cat being awkward, she is probably getting frustrated trying to explain to her human that, as the alpha cat on the premises, HE is meant to be going out and regularly patrolling and peeing on the walls to mark their territory. 'Look. I'll show you what to do again. What part do you not understand?')
There is also the fact that cats are generally aloof and disdainful. We secretly suspect that our cats despise our lack of grace and elegance. So when a cat jumps for the table, misses and frantically scrambles up a slipping tablecloth, this undignified performance can be reassuringly satisfying. Cats are human too. Well, you know what I mean.
That's one aspect of it. The other is that cats are capable of truly phenomenal feats of athleticism. Watching a cat leap onto a table, ricochet upward off the mantelpiece, and then run along upside down with her claws embedded in a wooden roof beam is as thrilling as any circus act.
There's also the fact that cats interact very differently with other cats. We love watching as they exchange those kitty hugs, but we also get a kick out of watching play ambushes when one cat launches a surprise attack on another. And then there's a genre of films showing how cats react when they are watching cat videos on the internet.... But perhaps we should stop there. After all, you may not have watched your ten daily cat videos yet.
If you haven't, here are some suggested sites for you:
- Funny cat site
- Cute cat videos and of course:
- Cat videoes on Youtube
Jessica GallMyrick. Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect? Computers in Human Behavior (2015) vol 52 pp: 168-176. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215004343