And, as neuroscientist Bethany Brookshire put it, "obvious study is obvious". People appear to be looking at cat pictures on the internet in order to "regulate mood", or make themselves happier. But sometimes those pictures make us feel bad, too.
Though its conclusions may seem like common sense, Brookshire points out that these kinds of studies shed light on many aspects of the way behave online. For instance, this study uncovered a few unexpected things about our cat-ogling ways. First, most people don't seek out cute cat pictures. And second, they make us happier, but also give us a twinge of guilt too. On her blog Scicurious, Brookshire writes:
Most of the time, people weren't intentionally seeking out the sweet catnip. Instead, almost 75 per cent of the time, viewers stumbled across cat-related content on social media platforms such as Facebook. But regardless of how the kitty content was found, most people reported feeling more positive emotions, such as hope and happiness, after a good cat gif or three. And if a respondent associated fluffy features with positive emotions, they tended to watch more cat content to generate some warm fuzzy feelings. If they were using the feline media to procrastinate from necessary duties, however, some of the enjoyment was tempered by a bit of guilt.
This makes me think that humans enjoy cat pictures in some of the same ways we enjoy drugs or sweet foods. They make us feel good in the short term, but they also come with a sense of guilt.
Read the full scientific study in Computers in Human Behaviour.