So Here’s a Study About Internet Cats

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Photo: David Livingston/2014 David Livingston

The good people at the Media School at Indiana University have taken it upon themselves to investigate one of our great modern mysteries: Why do people love internet cats? Jessica Gall Myrick, an assistant professor of journalism, got nearly 7,000 people to complete her online survey, no doubt in part because she enlisted the help of the squashy-faced famous internet cat Lil BUB, whose owners posted a link to the survey on social media and in their email newsletter. 

Myrick published her findings online this week in Computers in Human Behavior, and Science of Us dutifully read all eight pages. Here are the highlights:

  • People are more than twice as likely to post a picture or video of cats than they are to post a selfie. 
  • There are more than 2 million cat videos on YouTube, with a total of about 26 billion views. That’s an average of 12,000 views for each cat video, which is “more views-per-video than any other category of YouTube content,” Myrick writes.
  • According to a personality test, people who reported watching the most cat videos tended to be more agreeable — cooperative, friendly, trusting —  than people who watched fewer of the videos. (Agreeableness is one of what researchers refer to as the Big Five personality traits.)
  • Frequent cat-video-watchers also tended to score high on a scale measuring shyness; they were more likely to agree with statements like, “I feel tense when I’m with people I don’t know well.”
  • Many people said they watched cat videos when they were supposed to be working or studying. But any guilt they felt about shirking their responsibilities were worth it, they said, outweighed by the pleasure of watching, say, a fat cat in Japan trying to stuff himself into a series of itsy-bitsy boxes.
  • They also reported feeling less anxiety, sadness, and annoyance after watching cat videos. Who could stay upset when watching cats play patty cake, or stalk their owners, or pretend to be a tiny, furry wrecking ball

The press release for the study notes that Myrick donated about $700 — 10 cents for every person who completed the survey — to Lil Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA. If the subject matter here is somewhat ridiculous, at least some good came out of it. Now kindly play us out, keyboard cat.