3 Ways Science Says Cat GIFs Are Good for You

By Brittany Lyte on 5 March 2015 0 comments

We've all been guilty of it. Clicking through a celebrity mugshots gallery for what felt like a minute — but was actually 15. Losing a good chunk of the afternoon to the Google image search results for "wedding dress trends." Staying up 'til the wee morning hours to scope out foot tattoo inspiration on Pinterest. (See also: 10 Ways You're Wasting Time Without Realizing It)

Looking at cat GIFs and other photos on the Internet can be the ultimate time suck. But science says this guilty pleasure also comes with a few perks. Read on for our roundup of the benefits of having an affinity for grumpy cat photos and the like.

1. It Can Make You More Productive at Work

There's no need to feel guilty if you typically spend your coffee break checking out the panda cam at The National Zoo. As it turns out, those images of fuzzy panda bears are not only improving your mood, they're skyrocketing your work productivity, too. Research out of Japan's Hiroshima University shows that looking at pictures of exotic baby animals and cute kittens on the Internet can actually bolster attention to detail and ability to focus.

Chalk it up to the cuteness factor: When we look at images that are overwhelmingly adorable, it triggers an instant mood boost in our brains. That jolt of positivity taps into our nurturing instincts, making us more attentive — and therefore more productive on the job.

2. It Can Make You Happier

A British study found that there are more photos of felines circulating the Internet than anything else. The reason for this unparalleled cat fascination, according to the research, is this: Pictures of funny, cute, and even grumpy cats make us smile. "The Internet cat Hall of Fame features grumpy, affectionate, keyboard playing, surprised, talking, and angry cats," says Daniel Fisher, chief operating officer at Viral Spiral, which helped carry out the research. "And it's all about making people laugh, with humour winning over cuteness. The vast majority of cat videos online are cute, but the superstars are the ones who are hilarious, make us smile, and want to share with our friends and followers."

3. It Can Help You Understand Complex Ideas

Sure, you could read about the political unrest and violence erupting in the Ukraine as a result of the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Kiev government. But research shows you might better understand the complexities and humanity of the situation by instead viewing a journalistic photo essay about it, or maybe the Instagram feed of a reporter who's documenting the story with smartphone images. That's because, more than words, images help us comprehend complex information, be it about a foreign conflict, the art of assembling a dollhouse, or the anatomy of the human brain.

"Processing print isn't something the human brain was built for," said Marcel Just, Director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University. "The printed word is a human artifact. It's very convenient and it's worked very well for us for 5,000 years, but it's an invention of human beings. By contrast Mother Nature has built into our brain our ability to see the visual world and interpret it."

How much time do you spend browsing cute GIFs online? Share your favorites with us!

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