Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?
- A survey of nearly 7000 Internet users tested associations between personality traits, past behavior, and viewing cat-related media online.
- The study also examined Internet users’ motivations for consuming cat-related content, including emotion regulation and procrastination.
- Additionally, it explored effects of Internet cat consumption on emotional states and enjoyment of this type of digital media.
- Results point to certain personality types being more strongly associated with Internet cat consumption.
- Furthermore, results support a conceptual model arguing that the happiness gained from viewing Internet cats can moderate the relationship between procrastination motives, guilt, and enjoyment.
Anecdotes abound about the frequent use of the Internet to view cat-related media. Yet, research has yet to seriously address this popular culture phenomenon rooted largely in social media platforms. It is possible that viewing of online cat media improves mood, but this activity may also foster negative outcomes linked to using the Internet for procrastination. The present survey of Internet users (N = 6795) explored the correlates of viewing “Internet cats,” motivations for consuming this media, and its potential effects on users. It also tested a conceptual model predicting enjoyment as a function of the relationships between procrastination, guilt, and happiness. Results reveal significant relationships between viewing and personality types and demonstrate conceptual nuances related to the emotional benefits of watching Internet cats.
- Internet use;
- Guilty pleasure;
- Social media;
Anecdotes and news reports suggest that viewing videos and photos of cats is a common use of the Internet. As of 2014 there were more than 2 million cat videos posted on YouTube.com with nearly 26 billion total views (Marshall, 2014). That is an average of 12,000 views for each cat video—more views-per-video than any other category of YouTube content (Marshall, 2015). There are even annual in-person festivals devoted to “Internet cats,” including the Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis and Chicago (Walker Arts Center, 2015) as well as the Los Angeles Feline Film Festival (LA Feline Film Festival, 2015).
Internet users spend so much time with cat-related media they have turned household tabbies into celebrities. “Perma-kitten” Lil BUB has nearly 1.5 million Facebook fans and the constantly-frowning Grumpy Cat makes more money than many prominent human celebrities (Millward, 2014). Beyond famous cats, Internet users frequently post images of their own felines on social media platforms (Marshall, 2014), further increasing the amount of online cat-related visual content available to Internet users. In fact, industry research indicates that Internet users are more than twice as likely to post pictures or videos of cats than they are to post a “selfie” (i.e., a picture taken of oneself) online (Williams, 2014).
The Internet cat phenomenon has spurred news articles with titles such as “Why do cats dominate the Internet?” (Thornton, 2013) and “The million dollar question: Why does the Web love cats?” (Elliot, 2010). Yet, very little empirical evidence exists to help answer these questions or others like them, such as what motivates people to view online cat content and what type of people are more likely to enjoy cat-related Internet content. Considering the large viewership of online cat media, this topic is understudied. Consumption of online cat-related media deserves empirical attention because, as the news accounts suggest, Internet users spend a significant amount of time consuming cat-related media, some of that while they are supposed to be doing other tasks like working or studying. If this genre is as popular as the online analytics suggest, then there are likely important effects of such media on users, particularly on their emotional states.
Moreover, research on pet therapy indicates that time spent with real pets can improve mood and wellbeing across a variety of populations (Nimer & Lundahl, 2007). Research on “the media equation” argues that media users typically react to mediated content as if it were occurring in real life (Reeves & Nass, 1996). Therefore, mediated exposure to cats could possibly result in similar outcomes found in pet therapy studies, although perhaps to a lesser degree given no physical interaction with Internet cats. If viewing online cats does improve mood, such media could potentially serve as a low-cost and easily distributed intervention to (at least temporarily or at times of stress) improve emotional wellbeing. However, there are also potential negative impacts of watching Internet cats. For instance, if Internet users are watching online cat videos to procrastinate, they may instead experience guilt after looking at online cat content. Research is needed to test what exactly are the emotional benefits and drawbacks.
Mood management theory and previous studies of the emotional impact of entertainment media consumption provide a conceptual basis for analyzing the potential motivations for and effects of consuming online cat content, particularly as it relates to emotional states. The present work is an exploratory study of characteristics of Internet cat media consumers, their motivations for such media use, and potential effects of use related to emotional states of the users. Furthermore, this study advances the literature related to the interrelationship between feelings of guilt and enjoyment of Internet media (i.e., the guilty pleasure) by proposing and testing a conceptual model linking procrastination, guilt, happiness, and enjoyment. This study employs a survey of Internet users to explore the Internet cat as its own media genre and to set the stage for subsequent research and theory building in this area of entertainment research.