The Science Behind Our Obsession with Cat Videos


Cat videos are immensely popular online, with over 2 million videos posted and 26 billion views on YouTube alone in 2014. Their appeal spans demographics and cultures globally. What is it about cat videos that captivate so many viewers? This article will examine the science and psychology behind why cat videos make people happy. The thesis is that cat videos trigger positive emotions and provide mood-boosting benefits for many viewers.

Evolutionary Response

Watching cat videos activates innate nurturing instincts and responses in humans. According to research, humans are evolutionarily predisposed to find infantile features cute and stimulating Cat videos often showcase cats exhibiting juvenile behaviors and features like large eyes, round faces, and playful actions that we are wired to find endearing. Activating these innate preferences for cuteness served an evolutionary purpose to ensure human infants, who are highly vulnerable at birth, receive the care and attention they need to survive

Cuteness Overload

Cuteness seems to be hardwired into our brains, with certain features triggering nurturing instincts and positive emotional responses. Biologists have identified commonalities amongst animals and even objects we perceive as cute. This includes features like big eyes, soft fur, round faces, and playful behavior. When we see these traits, it stimulates the mesocorticolimbic system in our brains, which is associated with motivation and reward. This makes us feel good, producing a flood of dopamine as part of our nurturing response.

Much of what makes something cute involves neoteny – the retention of infant traits into adulthood. For example, cats have large heads, big eyes, clumsy movements and playfulness that mirror the behavior of kittens. Even as adults, these childlike features appeal to our perception of cuteness. Kittens and cats likely evolved to make use of this for enhanced human care and attention, becoming “cute” as an adaptive trait.

Unconditional Love

Cats can provide the unconditional love and affection that is often desired from human relationships. While cats may not always show overt signs of affection, their subtle displays of trust and comfort in our presence demonstrates a unique bond. As described by the American Psychological Association, pet ownership can fulfill the human need for attachment and unconditional acceptance (Vet Med News, 2019). Cats in particular tend to choose their owners, making their affection and companionship feel more earned and meaningful. Their independence paired with moments of closeness reminds us that healthy relationships need not revolve around constant togetherness. Much like caring for a pet, building strong human connections requires patience, empathy and letting go of expectations.

Silly Antics

Watching cats engage in silly, goofy, and unexpected behavior can trigger amusement and joy. According to Psychology Today, cats engage in playful and comical antics that provide people with laughter and stress relief (Psychology Today). For example, cats may suddenly start racing around, playing with toys, stalking or pouncing on objects that aren’t there, or getting themselves stuck in funny positions. These behaviors seem random and are hard to predict, which makes them humorous to watch. We find it entertaining when cats act goofy or clumsy in ways that remind us of unserious human behavior. The silliness triggers the reward centers in our brains, releasing dopamine and creating enjoyment. While cats likely don’t intend to be funny, their playful antics and goofy mannerisms provide people with amusement, entertainment, and laughter.

Comforting Familiarity

Cats have become ingrained in Internet culture and provide a dependable source of entertainment. According to the article Novelty vs. Familiarity Principles in Preference Decisions, familiarity is an aesthetic principle that draws people to what is known, predictable, and reliable. When we watch cat videos, we are tapping into the comfort of the familiar – cats behaving in their classic silly or cute ways. The antics may be novel and unpredictable, but cats themselves have become familiar icons online. Their presence is reassuring, sparking joy precisely because it is ordinary and expected. In a world of endless novelty on the Internet, cat videos stand out by providing the comfort of the familiar.

Mood Booster

Numerous studies have found that watching cat videos can reduce stress, anxiety, and sadness. In one study by Indiana University, participants who watched cat videos reported feeling more energetic and positive afterwards ( Researchers believe this is due to an evolutionary response – our brains are hardwired to find the antics and facial expressions of cats rewarding. The unconditional affection cats display reminds us of human relationships, providing a sense of connection. Laughter from silly or cute cat behavior releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones. Overall, cat videos deliver a quick and effective mood boost that can temporarily relieve anxiety, stress, and negative emotions.

Seneca’s Mental Reprieve

Watching cat videos can provide us with a brief mental respite from our daily stresses and worries, similar to what the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca prescribed. As Seneca wrote in his essay Consolation to Helvia, we all need a break at times from our troubles in order to recharge our minds. Just as Seneca saw value in taking occasional refuge in consolations and distractions, cat videos can give our minds a chance to relax and reset.

Even when we are suffering grief or misfortune, Seneca believed we should “conquer it rather than beguile it” with diversions like cat videos. But he also recognized the restorative value of briefly directing our attention elsewhere. The silly antics and unconditional affection displayed in cat videos provides a dose of positivity that can lift our mood and spirits when we most need it. This short mental reprieve allows us to return to our daily challenges recharged and with renewed perspective.

Better Focus

Watching short cat videos can actually help improve concentration and productivity when taken as short breaks during work or study sessions. Research has shown that taking short mental breaks helps reset the mind and improves focus and productivity.[1] In one study, participants who took two short breaks during a 50-minute work session showed improved focus and completed tasks more quickly with better accuracy compared to those who did not take breaks.[2] It’s believed that taking even brief diversions from an intense task can give the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for concentration, decision-making, and impulse control, a chance to rest and restore.[3] Cat videos in particular may boost focus more than passive relaxation since they actively capture our attention and stimulate positive emotions.

The key seems to be limiting cat video breaks to 5-10 minutes to avoid extended distractions or diminishing returns. When used strategically during long study or work blocks, brief cat video breaks can give the brain a recharge to concentrate better on tasks afterward.





In summary, cat videos have such a positive impact on our mood and emotions for several key reasons. First, we have an innate biological reaction to their cuteness that releases feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. Their playful antics also tap into our sense of silliness and provide a dose of much-needed levity. Watching cats allows us to experience unconditional love and affection from an animal, which can be comforting. It reminds us of owning pets and that sense of close companionship. Cats feel familiar to us, having lived alongside humans for thousands of years, so we easily relate to them. Their presence is soothing and calming, lowering stress and anxiety. Cat videos give our brains a break from constant overstimulation and work as a mental palate cleanser. They capture our attention just long enough to hit the reset button. We can then return to tasks feeling more focused and productive. The positive emotions elicited from observing cats, even if just brief video clips, can boost our mood and leave us feeling happier.

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