Do Cat Videos Really Make Us Happier? The Science Behind Cute Animal Videos and Mood Boosts


Cat videos have become an internet phenomenon, with billions of views across major platforms like YouTube. In 2014 alone, nearly 2 million cat videos were uploaded to YouTube, raking in over 26 billion views ( Their popularity extends beyond YouTube as well. “Cats” is one of the most searched terms online, and cat content makes up a significant portion of internet data ( This immense interest in cat videos raises an intriguing question – could these cute, comical clips actually provide mental health benefits?

Some preliminary research suggests that watching cat videos can temporarily lift moods and reduce stress and anxiety. However, the long-term mental health impacts remain unclear. While cat videos may be able to give people a quick emotional boost, it’s uncertain whether they can meaningfully improve mental wellbeing over time. This article will explore the science behind the short-term mood benefits of cat videos, while also discussing the limitations of their long-term mental health impact.

Brief History of Cat Videos

The first cat videos were uploaded to YouTube over 15 years ago, beginning with “Pajamas and Nick Drake” in 2005 by YouTube co-founder Steve Chen ( Cat videos went viral as an internet phenomenon in the early 2010s, with popular videos like keyboard cat receiving millions of views. Soon cat videos were featured in film festivals, art exhibits, and books, cementing their status in internet culture (

The Science of Cuteness

From an evolutionary perspective, the cute features of cats like their large eyes, soft fur, big head and clumsy movements tap into our innate nurturing instincts (Source 1). This is known as baby schema or kindchenschema, where juvenile physical traits motivate caretaking behavior in adults. When we see kittens exhibit these cute traits that resemble human babies, it triggers caregiving neural pathways in our brains.

Specifically, looking at cute kittens releases dopamine, providing an instant mood boost. (Source 2) The rush of dopamine makes us feel rewarded and reinforces our attraction to cuteness. This explains why cat videos tend to go viral – they tap into our brain’s reward system in an addictive way. While momentarily uplifting, some experts warn against relying on a constant cuteness fix to improve long-term mental health.

Short-Term Mood Benefits

Multiple studies have shown that watching cat videos can provide short-term improvements in mood and reductions in stress. In one study published in 2015 by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that watching cat videos led to higher positive emotions and lower negative feelings among college students who were stressed after completing exams 1. The students reported feeling more energetic and focused after viewing internet cat videos. Another study by researchers at Indiana University Media School also found that watching cat videos online provided a temporary distraction and mood boost for participants 2.

Scientists suggest that one reason for these short-term benefits is due to the high levels of cuteness displayed in most cat videos. The baby-like features of cats, such as their large eyes, round faces, and playful behavior, trigger a caregiving response and the release of dopamine in the brain which improves mood 3. However, the mood boost appears temporary, simply providing a pleasant short-term distraction rather than long-lasting mental health benefits.

Long-Term Mental Health Impact Unclear

While cat videos have been shown to provide short-term mood boosts, there is a lack of rigorous long-term studies evaluating their impact on mental health over time. A 2015 study found that watching cat videos led to moderate improvements in symptoms related to autism, medical difficulties, and behavioral problems, but the long-term mental health effects remain unclear (

The short-term mood lift generated from watching cute cat videos does not necessarily translate into improved long-term mental health. Some experts caution that the habit of watching cat videos could become problematic if used solely as a distraction or substitute for addressing underlying mental health issues. More research is needed to determine if and how regularly watching cat videos impacts mental health and happiness over the long run.

Risk of Problematic Addiction

While cat videos can provide a quick boost in mood, excessive viewing could enable avoidance behaviors rather than healthy coping strategies. As with any pleasurable activity, there is a risk of developing a compulsive addiction to cat videos that interferes with daily functioning and relationships. A 2015 study found that many frequent cat video viewers reported feeling guilty about their level of viewing, and some used cat videos to procrastinate or avoid negative emotions (Myrick, 2015). Moderation and self-awareness are key to ensuring cat video viewing remains a positive force rather than an unhealthy escape.

Recommendations for Healthy Viewing

While watching cat videos can provide short-term mood benefits, it’s important to view them in moderation as part of an overall self-care routine, not an unhealthy addiction. Research shows that spending excessive time passively consuming any type of online content can negatively impact mental health over the long-run (

Supplement cat videos with other coping strategies and treatments recommended by mental health professionals, such as therapy, medication, exercise, social connection, mindfulness practices, and adequate sleep. Don’t use cat videos as a complete replacement for professional care.

To ensure cat video viewing remains healthy, set reasonable time limits, take breaks, and stay mindful of your mood and motivations while watching. Avoid binge-watching excessively or letting cat videos dominate your leisure time.

You can also give back to cats in need by donating to reputable cat charities or shelters. This allows the feel-good mood benefits of cat videos to extend beyond just yourself.

The Popularity of Other Cute Animal Videos

Cat videos are incredibly popular online, but people also watch cute videos featuring puppies, rabbits, hamsters, and baby animals. These types of cute animal content also seem to provide similar short-term mood benefits as cat videos. For example, one study found that viewing images of baby animals significantly increased positive emotions and decreased negative ones (1). However, the long-term mental health impacts of watching any type of cute animal content are still unclear.

Puppies are particularly beloved on the internet – videos featuring playful puppies receive millions of views. Interestingly, studies have shown that interactions with dogs can provide physiological and psychological benefits, like decreased blood pressure and stress (2). More research is needed to determine if simply viewing puppy videos can produce comparable results.

Overall, while cat videos may be the prototypical cute animal content, puppies, bunnies, hamsters, kittens, and more also attract huge audiences looking for a quick mood boost. But it’s uncertain whether all these forms of cute animal content have different psychological and emotional effects over time.


Other Mood-Boosting Internet Content

In addition to cute animal videos, other types of uplifting or humorous internet content have also been shown to briefly improve mood and mental health. Studies have found short-term boosts in happiness and reductions in stress from viewing funny videos, inspirational speeches, or guided meditations online ( Music is another common internet tool for regulating emotions and lifting spirits. Research indicates listening to preferred, positive-valence music can provide an immediate mood boost and stress relief ( While the long-term mental health benefits of these practices require further study, they demonstrate the internet’s potential for delivering quick mood pick-me-ups.


In summary, cat videos appear to provide some short-term positive mood benefits for viewers. The scientific theories behind why we find cat videos so appealing point to their simplicity, cuteness, and reliability as sources of positive emotions. Cat videos seem to tap into our instinct for caring for young animals and enjoying playful behavior.

However, more research is still needed into the long-term mental health effects of cat video viewing. While they may temporarily lift one’s mood and provide stress relief, it’s unclear if repeated cat video viewing can help fight anxiety or depression over the long run. Moderation is likely key, as excessive viewing could potentially lead to unhealthy addiction and isolation.

Going forward, it’s wise to view cat videos as part of a comprehensive self-care plan including social connection, physical activity, mental stimulation, and professional treatment if needed. If enjoyed in moderation, cat videos can provide a quick mood boost, but more serious mental health issues require additional interventions and lifestyle changes. With some prudent viewing habits, cat videos can be an amusing and uplifting part of one’s day.

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