Why We Watch Cat Videos On Youtube (And How They Can Help Us Focus)

kitten cuteness

I don’t remember the string of videos that led me to cats today. In fact, I’m pretty sure I started off playing music videos for background music. But according to internet law, given enough time, any self-respecting Youtuber will find cats. That’s because cats are like the internet’s baby – it’s always trying to introduce you to them.

The Internet: “You haven’t met the cats? WHAT? You haven’t SEEN them yet? Oh, you have to see them! They’re so cute and funny. *yells into the other room* Honey, this person hasn’t seen the cats yet! *voice yells back* You’re kidding. Show them everything!”

My original goal today was to organize the content of the book I’m writing. But no, I couldn’t focus for two minutes on it. I am passionate about the topic (habits) and writing it is enjoyable, but bringing 5,380 words of unorganized ideas into a focused piece of work was quite challenging. My focus kept bouncing off the page until I found myself watching a cat with simulated lightsabers in his paws. It was like a sober version of “The Hangover.” How did I arrive here again?


The Fatal Mistake That Ruined My Ability To Focus

My cat-video spree ended in the search term “cats on hind legs.” And why? Because I approached a difficult task as if it were easy. Any time you misjudge the difficulty of a task, you’re more than likely going to lose focus.

Cats on hind legs WITH lightsabers? This might be a simulation of what heaven is like.


Where was I? Oh yes, for easy and immediately rewarding tasks, focusing is easy. Back when I’d play video games for more than 10 hours a day, I would maintain extreme focus the entire time, barely paying attention to “annoyances” like eating food. This is one reason why I don’t currently own a gaming system (the other being that you have to pay money to buy one).

But what I tried today was hard work with a delayed reward. The only more difficult focus challenge is focusing on something you don’t enjoy doing that carries little reward (how many of you just thought of your job? If so, change careers!). I should have set strict ground rules before I started, because the mind likes to wander when it encounters resistance.

The Simple Reason Why The World Is Addicted To Cat Videos

Cat videos offer a reward to the brain. When that cat first pulls out a lightsaber, it just makes you feel happy to be alive, ya know? The reward from cat videos, though, is limited to the time spent viewing them. Compare this to an activity like writing a book, which carries a lifelong reward of satisfaction.

In life, brain rewards range from a sudden to delayed, from short-lasting to long-lasting, and from intense to subtle. The short-lived, strong bursts of pleasure come from activities like watching cat videos or TV, spending money, getting “frisky” with another “cat,” sex, using Facebook, and eating ice cream. Delayed, subtle, and longer lasting rewards are things like writing a book, reading a book, exercising, investing or saving money, and subscribing to Deep Existence to improve your focus skills.

It’s not a surprise then that we struggle to resist cat videos. Cats combined with treadmills offer a guaranteed and immediate reward to the brain (if you don’t believe me, watch the video below). But again, writing a book requires an increased amount of effort from the brain with a delayed reward. Knockout. Cats win again.


Can Watching Cat Videos Help Us Focus? Science Says YES!

Kittens are powerful. Their cuteness is so…cute…that it affects your brain! Unless you’re a dog person, in which case a puppy will do the trick.

I can’t believe it, but there is research to suggest that cat videos HELP us focus. Wh–whaaa? It’s true, but I’m going to slap a big caveat on it, don’t worry. I can’t let you guys have too much fun. Show this to your boss though.

The Japanese study involved three experiments with university students. They were shown images of varying cuteness (kittens and puppies were at the top of the cute chain, followed by cats and dogs, and then pleasant-looking food for some reason). Here are the results.

[box style=”info”]If you’re unfamiliar with scientific jargon, “1.4±2.1% improvement” means a 1.4% improvement over the control group, plus or minus 2.1%. So in this example case, the improvement results are very small and possibly non-existent.[/box]

First, participants were tested on a fine motor dexterity task (such as playing the game Operation)

  • After viewing kittens/puppies: 43.9±10.3% improvement (Wow! That’s 44% improvement! Bring cute kitten pictures with you to surgery.)
  • After cats/dogs: 11.9±5.5% improvement (more than 10%… Not bad but trounced by the little ones)

Second, they were given a “non-motor visual search task” (such as playing Where’s Waldo)

  • Kittens: 15.7±2.2% improvement (A decent increase of 16%)
  • Cats:1.4±2.1% improvement (Negligible and well behind little furballs)
  • Pleasant food pictures: 1.2±2.1% improvement (Not much effect at all)

The third experiment found that people who viewed the kittens and puppies paid closer attention to detail, supporting the results from the first two experiments.

Still…Easy On The Cat Videos, Mmmk?

While the science says kittens are one route to better focusing, there’s an important caveat, which is that the act of watching kittens itself is unproductive and likely means that you’re very distracted. You can’t watch four hours of cat videos to be more productive.

It’s clear what the answer is for enhanced focus, greater productivity, and maximum effectiveness while working – if you watch a cat video, make sure it’s REALLY cute (preferably a kitten), and don’t watch too many of them.

Now watch this and get back to work.

Note: Excessive kitten-watching is hereby considered cheating for the game of Operation.

photo by Energetic Spirit

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