Need a quick pick-me-up? Just try to resist smiling at YouTube kitty video superstar Lil Bub, or any of Bub's irresistible online peers.

When Indiana University researcher Jessica Gall Myrick, PhD, posted a survey about the viewing habits of cat video watchers, an overwhelmingly high percentage of people admitted they indulged in the activity because it makes them feel good.

Myrick got curious after learning that there were more than 2 million cat videos posted on YouTube in 2014, and wondered what it was about feline footage that made it so popular? But when she dug deeper, she discovered that very little research had been done regarding this pop culture phenomenon.

“Some people may think watching online cat videos isn’t a serious enough topic for academic research but if you want to understand the effects of the internet on individuals–and society–then we researchers can’t ignore them anymore,” Myrick said in an interview with QualityHealth.

In an attempt to document what she calls the “understudied field of online cat media,” she put together a survey. Myrick wanted to know the when, where, and why people watched kitty videos and enlisted help from Lil Bub’s owner, Mike Bridavsky.

As it turns out, Bridavsky and Myrick live in the same community, and although the two had never met, he was supportive of her research and agreed to post the survey on Lil Bub’s site. “Within hours, I had tons of responses,” Myrick says.

While Myrick admits that having a random sample of survey respondents (rather than a self-selected group) would be more scientifically sound, she said her work is a good first step toward exploring the topic. “I never meant for my survey to be the final word on kitty video effects,” she explains. “I just wanted to go to where the video watchers live.”

The results of her study were published in the June 2015 issue of Computers in Human Behavior and suggest that viewing Internet kitties improves emotional wellbeing–at least temporarily or during times of stress.

The survey received 7,000 responses–most of which were positive. “I expected cat video watchers to tell me the activity made them happy but I was surprised so many admitted having more energy after watching them,” Myrick admits. “Cat videos seem to be a pick me up. They seem to be so engaging they make you stop what you’re doing and momentarily forget about other stressors.”

Other findings include:

  • Respondents watched cat videos two to three times a week, on average.
  • Respondents reported fewer negative emotions–including anxiety, sadness and annoyance–after viewing favorite online videos.
  • Facebook, YouTube, Buzzfeed and I Can Has Cheezburger were the top sites for cat content.
  • Three quarters of the respondents said they happened upon the kitty content accidentally. In other words, they weren’t seeking it out but got hooked after coming across it.
  • Respondents who currently own a cat or had previously owned one were more likely to watch and like the videos.

Why Cats, Not Dogs or Cute Babies?

According to Myrick, cats have become synonymous with the Internet. There's no definite answer as to why, but the researcher surmises it may have something to do with personality. A large percentage of her respondents described themselves as shy and private people.

“Cats and their owners don’t mingle in public places the way dogs and their owners do at dog parks,” she explains. “Cat owners may feel putting their cats online is a way to show off their pets and connect with other cat lovers.”

Appearance may also be a factor. “Cats have unique, mysterious looks which may compel us,” she says citing Grumpy Cat, another Internet star. “Grumpy Cat is probably a happy guy in reality but he looks miserable. Cats are good at grabbing our attention."

Procrastinators Take Note

But wait, there is a downside. Many respondents said they viewed the cat content while at work or while studying. “Guilt was a feeling associated with watching online cat videos when it was tied to procrastination,” Myrick said explaining how the respondents justified the indulgent activity. “But the amount of happiness they received was worth any negative feelings associated with procrastination.”

Myrick who is allergic to cats and owns a pug named Biscuit says her findings suggest watching cats online is a positive use of media and may actually be a legitimate form of digital pet therapy. “I know of a special education teacher who uses cat videos in her work with children and a nurse who shows them to nervous patients prior to surgery. The nurse said she’s actually seen measurable decreases in blood pressure. It’s anecdotal but I believe there’s something there.”

If you’ve been missing the action, Myrick recommends “It’s a family-friendly source of pet content that doesn’t discriminate,” she says. “You can find cats, dog and babies there, too!” (Cuteoverload also has a Facebook page and can be followed on Twitter @cutoverload.

Down the road, Myrick plans more research “but academic wheels spin slowly so it may be a few years off.” In the meantime, try turning your frown upside down with a low-cost, accessible kitty video.

Jessica Gall Myrick reviewed this article.


Jessica Gall Myrick, PhD, assistant professor, Indiana University. Phone interview on Aug. 26, 2015.

“Not-so-guilty pleasure: Viewing cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions, IU study finds.” Indiana University. June 16, 2015.

Palermo, Elizabeth. “Internet Cat Videos Keep You Purring, Study Finds.” Live, June 18, 2015.