The Surprising Benefits of Watching Cute Cat Videos

The Surprising Benefits of Watching Cute Cat Videos

[ ♪INTRO ] I see you. Watching YouTube when you’re supposed to
be working, huh? Well, don’t sweat it. It turns out that taking a break to squee
over some cuteness might actually benefit your work. There’s a lot we’re still learning, but
according to some research, looking at cute animals is associated with a boost in focus
and fine motor skills. So the next time you’re sucked into one
of those “cute puppy” stories on Snapchat, you might be doing yourself a favor. First, though, let’s back up and talk about
what “cute” means, anyway. You might have your own opinions, but based
on what psychologists have seen in studies, people generally find things cute because
of what’s called baby schema. That’s your classic baby look. Think a big head, large eyes, and chubby cheeks. Baby schema was first described in the 1940s,
and the animal behaviorist that proposed it believed humans are hard-wired to respond
to these characteristics with caregiving behavior. Which intuitively makes sense. Babies are super fragile, and it’s in our
species’ best interest to think they’re cute and important to care for. Evidence backs this up, too. For example, in a 2009 experiment where researchers
manipulated the baby schema of an image to be more dramatic, people tended to rate the
subjects of those images as cuter and reported a greater desire to care for them. And it’s not just human babies: Other studies
suggest that we tend to react about as strongly to babies of other species, like puppies,
as we do to infants of our own species. So cute faces make us want to keep things
safe. But it’s a pretty big leap to go from that
kind of caregiving behavior to a generally sharper mind and better motor skills. Researchers started making that jump around
2009, when a study was published in the journal Emotion. The researchers had 96 college students look
at pictures of either baby or adult animals, then play the game Operation. It’s that board game where you have to use
tiny little pliers to remove organs from an irate-looking man, and every time you make
a wrong move, the board buzzes and the guy’s nose lights up. Yeah, it’s great and also terrifying. Operation takes careful, nimble movements
to do well. And in the study, participants who had been
primed with baby animals did better at it than those who had looked at adult ones, to
a degree that reached statistical significance. But there were some limitations to this. For one thing, the participants weren’t
timed, so it wasn’t clear whether they did better because cuteness boosted their fine
motor control or just because it made them slow down. Also, Operation is essentially a caregiving
task — you’re basically tending to a sick patient. So there was no guarantee that these results
would extend to something that had nothing to do with caregiving. To figure those things out, researchers in
Japan took the reins in 2012 with a study called “The Power of Kawaii” — a Japanese
word that essentially means “cute.” As part of their study, they had participants
perform two experiments that relied on speed and had seemingly nothing to do with caregiving. In one, 48 people primed with either pictures
of baby or adult animals had to find specific digits in matrices of random numbers. They were asked to complete as many matrices
as they could in three minutes. In the other, they had 36 people do a global-local
letter task. That’s an exercise that tests for global
precedence, or a person’s tendency to more easily process a whole image rather than its
individual features. The participants looked at large letters made
out of smaller letters and had to quickly say whether what they saw contained a certain
character. If they saw a large H made out of Ts, for
instance, noticing the Ts would be a sign that they could pick out small details in
a larger scene. In the end, the people who had looked at baby
animals were faster and more accurate at the number matrices, and were more able to pick
out details in the larger scenes than the other group. That suggested they had better focus and attention
to detail. Which is pretty surprising. Generally speaking, scientists think the way
we react to baby schema is probably an evolutionary adaptation to make us better at caring for
our young and ensuring their survival. The fact that this gentleness may bleed into
other areas of our lives, though, feels like an unexpected bonus. Like, on the surface, focusing on a bunch
of numbers doesn’t seem like it should help you care for an infant. Scientists are still figuring out exactly
why that might happen, but it could actually have something to do with another aspect of
ensuring that kids survive: protecting them. After all, being super focused and able to
pick out individual details might have helped our ancestors stay vigilant in protecting
their young ones from threats. Clearly, though, these aren’t ironclad explanations. There were plenty of limitations to the Japanese
study, most notably the fact that researchers in general don’t quite understand what happens
in the body when we react to cuteness. Scientists also haven’t really looked into
how these effects might apply to seeing cute things in person, like if you’re working
from home with your newborn. This is an area ripe for exploration, and
we can learn a lot if more researchers jump in. But either way, babies are pretty helpless,
and our species has evolved to keep them alive at all costs. When you watch cute cat videos, you might
just be borrowing a little of that evolutionary mojo to make you better at your next task. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych, especially to our patrons on Patreon! We’re thankful for your support and your
curiosity about the world. If you want to help us keep making content
like this, you can go to [ ♪OUTRO ]

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Then why are cat videos so much more popular then baby videos? Shouldn't it then mean baby videos are trending all the time on YT? :S

  2. We desperately need a video that explains why it is, that we can LOVE cutenes when it comes to animals but at the same time HATE human babies!

  3. But cuteness or かわいい is a pervasive element in Japanese society. And it has been for centuries. I wonder how they dealt with that in their study. Would members of a society that didn't embrace cuteness the way the Japanese do react the same way?

  4. The thing is for me, I cannot stand human babies. Everything about them just annoys me, kittens, puppies, and the like on the other hand I love.

  5. Isn't the nucleus accumbens involved in "cuteness"? – and also is their evidence of a relationship to music here as well (with the nucleus accumbens)? That could relate it to mathematics through music? I think also that pedophilia has a relationship to the nucleus accumbens via a brain abnormality that results in sexual attraction to children (instead of adults) rather than a caring instinct towards children. Does the nucleus accumbens play a role in violent behaviour? – could explain a few things?

  6. I personally love watching cat videos because I'm allergic. And watching happy cats be cared for and loved, makes me feel all warm and happy. And hearing them purring calms my anxiety a lot. (Sometimes will lull me to sleep) And when I get stuck in OCD spirals, or unsettling intrusive thoughts jump me, or I'm experiencing PTSD flashbacks.. The sound of a cat and seeing a cat just,

    it takes my focus on it and I feel all happy because it's content and loved and living its best life. That's a great feeling. I like it, I'm happy people post videos of their lovely cats. Because it helps me more than they know.❤🐈

  7. Everyone talks like Hank in Scishow videos and I can't tell if it's a Minnesota cadence, a directorial decision, a public speaking trick or a massive cult conspiracy designed to make us empathize with the Deep Ones when they start ravaging the world town by town

  8. Watching this, I was SO distracted by Brit's shirt. She's talking about cuteness but wearing a shirt showing an image of very dangerous shark jaws & teeth. I couldn't get over the incongruity!

  9. Okay but here's a question: why is it that some people (like myself) find baby animals cute but not baby humans? You'd think the babies of your own species would take priority but I really don't find actual babies cute, if anything maybe the opposite.

  10. Gotta be careful with how you say Kawaii. It sounds similar to kowaii when you say it fast. Kawaii= cute. Kowaii= scary.

  11. I'm going to use this argument the next time my boss catches me watching videos of cute kittens and puppies at work.

  12. Do I need my 'mind' (or 'soul')? This is not influenced by this, but I have recently looked into Rene Descartes 'passions of the soul' just lately. 'Passions' meaning 'being acted upon' ('passive'), and 'soul' meaning 'mind' ('active') – so in a sense our mind can become 'passive' to what our body is doing (emotions or injury etc), or our mind can be 'active' upon our body (and control our passions). I feel like I don't need my mind – like my mind is just some evolutionary by-product like a tail bone. I just don't need it?

  13. Thumbnail: Cute kittens
    Video title: Cat videos
    Put a dog video clip in the video.
    SciShowPsych is dog people confirmed.

  14. I’ll just watch the adorable kitties!!! Even if I don’t need to focus or anything.

  15. I looked at research a couple of years ago on cute videos in relation to Attentional Restoration Theory, which seemed to make more reasonable conclusions than I'm seeing here.

  16. I feel like the kawaii study is why Japan has so many cute things and why they doubled down on it by making official ambassadors.

  17. So what if you think baby animals are adorable AF but can't stand human spawn? I in no way find human offspring even the remotest of cute.

  18. But what about people like me that think babies are ugly and quite disgusting? Then that baby theory about cuteness doesn't really hold up

  19. I'm curious: Could be there a scientific explanation why I find human babies ugly and boring while loving the cuteness of non-human babies, like kitties and puppies?

  20. Hey SciShow: I find some animals (particularly cats and cat-like) very cute. I absolutely feel nothing (except maybe disgust) towards human babies. Talked to some people, I am not the only one.

  21. If it takes more energy to concentrate and pick out details, then it makes sense that our brains will only work harder when necessary.
    Seeing a cute baby will make our brain think we need to protect or care for it, increasing the efficiency of our brains but when we don’t need to protect or care for, we think in a less energy draining way

  22. I absolutely hate looking at human babies but get caregiving urges over kittens. Explain THAT science.

  23. Hey guys, I’ve got a video suggestion for you. What are the differences of books and audiobooks on the mind. I know it can be a hot topic with some people but it would be great to see what research has been done on it

  24. So interviewers who are looking for a good employee, you have no excuse to higher parents if they can do the job.

  25. The baby schema thing has always been unsatisfying to me. Human babies just don't have the same effect on me as cute animals. I find some babies kind of cute, most pretty unappealing, but even with the cutest ones it's just not at all the same feeling as with animals. I don't hate babies or anything, I just have no interest in them. I can see when a human baby is a cute one but I never get that overwhelming "squeal and want to squeeze it" thing. If the feelings for animals are based on parental instinct, shouldn't I feel the same feeling at least as strongly for human babies? If I'm maybe for some reason lacking parental instincts, why do I have a strong reaction to cute animals? I can see here in the comments that other people feel this way too. Am I missing something and the baby schema explanation isn't harmed by the phenomenon of people gushing over animals but not human babies? I am so curious about this.

  26. So after 35 years in veterinary medicine giving care, I should be much more attentive to detail & hey, I am. I still suck at gaming, cuz I'm 60! I'll keep watching puppies, kittens & baby bat vids, just cuz they make me smile & appreciate not having to get up at 5:30. Now if MY critters would just let me sleep in……..

  27. So Brit is talking about cuteness while wearing a shirt with a shark's jaw on it. Hmm….Well, baby sharks are kind of cute….until their adult teeth come in. Eeep!

  28. Working from home with your infant is very difficult. Unlike pictures, they take up a lot of time with care needs, unexpectedly at that. Need to do a video conference? Too bad, baby just puked on your last dress shirt and you don't have the time to run a load right now.

  29. It's weird, I'm super susceptible to literally any creature that fits "baby schema" – except humans. I have the same visceral reaction to human babies that I have to insect larvae. They look no different to me.

  30. Human larvae are poop and vomit bombs with a random timer with no display. They can go off at any time without warning. Until the day I have one of my own, I want nothing to do with them. They are not cute. They are terrifying.

  31. So, how does the control group for that kind of experiment work tho? Did they show pictures of peaceful sceneries, freshly cut fruit, car wrecks, or scary monsters, to see if they DIDN'T cause the same effect? 😛

  32. Hey a quick pronunciation note: kawaii is pronounced kah-wah-EE

    Pronouncing it the way she said it in the video sounds closer to the Japanese word for “scary” (kowai)

  33. Now I have to look at everything I find adorable and look for the baby schema because I feel like it isn't always the case. I could be wrong, though. I tend to find anything tiny cute, even inanimate objects.

  34. Great video! Maybe the people were more relax, and so more focus. After all, stress is well known to decrease cognition.

  35. It sounds like it's another form of that 'an increase in happiness leads to an increase in productivity' thing and the cuteness is a wholesome vehicle for that slight happiness/relaxation/positivity boost

  36. I suppose it might be beneficial in the short term, but I'm of the belief that it's detrimental in the long term.
    Engaging in an indulgence of cuteness is a practice in which the "cute" party becomes reduced to a subject of amusement for the other. It is an exercise in the demeaning of others, and is especially dangerous in the case of cute humans.
    Sure, the compulsion we have to care for cute children can be beneficial to them at a young enough age, but there comes a point in a child's life where regardless of how cute they are, it's in both their and our best interest not to acknowledge it. We should strive to look past the cuteness and acknowledge that they are a person, and deserve to be taken seriously as such.

  37. I have a question. I think animals are super cute, but I have never thought of human babies as cute. Intuitively I know babies are supposed to be cute, but it's almost as if I have a blindness to it. I also don't want kids, if that is relevant. Why is that? I am male too, if gender is important here. Thanks!

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