iStock (computer); Erin McCarthy (Pearl Wolfie)
iStock (computer); Erin McCarthy (Pearl Wolfie)

Watching Cat Videos Boosts Energy, According to Science

iStock (computer); Erin McCarthy (Pearl Wolfie)
iStock (computer); Erin McCarthy (Pearl Wolfie)

The next time your boss busts you for watching a cat video during work hours, tell him you’re doing it for your well being. A new study, published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior, has found that viewing a video of an adorable feline boosts the viewer’s positive emotions, gives them an energy bump, and decreases negative feelings.

It’s no secret that cat videos are numerous and popular. As of 2014, more than 2 million cat videos had been posted on YouTube, garnering nearly 26 billion total views—an average of 12,000 views per video. It's those kinds of numbers that inspired Jessica Gall Myrick, an assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington’s Media School, to look into why people can't get enough of feline flicks. One particular week she saw a lot of cat-related media—“not just videos but also news stories about celebrity cats and cat festivals,” she tells mental_floss. “It struck me how much of this type of media people must be consuming to turn this into such a phenomenon. As someone who studies media effects for a living, I was curious how watching so many cat videos might impact people.”

After looking for research in scholarly databases and coming up empty-handed, Myrick decided to do her own study. “My research focuses on the role of emotions in media effects on audiences, so I knew from the beginning I wanted to measure how Internet users respond emotionally to this content,” she says. “I also wanted to figure out if there were any personality traits or background factors, like real cat ownership, that might be related to viewing online cat-related media.”

She created a survey, which was distributed on social media with a little help from Bloomington resident Mike Bridavsky, owner of Internet phenom and mental_floss magazine guest editor and interviewee Lil Bub, who tweeted out a link. (Myrick also donated 10 cents per participant to Lil Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA, raising $700.)

Nearly 7000 people took the survey, answering not just questions about how watching cat videos made them feel, but also past and present about feline ownership, whether or not they’d fostered cats, how often they posted photos and videos of their own kitties, and what other animal-related media they watched. “Because this was an exploratory study,” Myrick says, “I wanted to measure as many variables as possible that might help explain why cat videos are all over the Internet and who was driving such high viewership of cat-related Internet content.”

Extreme grooming happening right now. #pearlwolfie #ollywobbles

A video posted by erincmccarthy (@erincmccarthy) on Jun 7, 2015 at 12:39pm PDT

Myrick found that people who watched cat videos “tend to have real cats, are active in animal-related charities, somewhat shy, and are agreeable,” she says. “There was also a very small, but statistically significant, relationship between low levels of emotional stability and higher frequency of viewing cat videos or photos online.”

Participants said they often watched cat videos at work or when they were studying, and typically felt more energetic and more positive after watching the videos. They also had fewer negative emotions, including sadness and anxiety. “Some people did feel guilty if they watched cat videos as a way to procrastinate,” Myrick says. “[But] even if they did feel guilty for procrastinating, if the cat videos they viewed also made them feel happy, then that positive emotion seemed to override the guilt and [they] still reported enjoying the videos.”

But it wasn’t all fun and Nyan-cat rainbows: If participants were watching the videos to procrastinate and the videos didn’t make them feel happy, then they didn’t have an enjoyable experience. “Emotions are complex, and we can simultaneously experience positive and negative emotions, but often one type might dominate the other, as was the case for some cat-video-watching procrastinators,” Myrick says. “I think these results suggest that the motivations people bring with them to media matter for determining how that media will affect the user.”

Myrick’s study shows that watching cat videos online isn’t a waste of time, but is instead “a way we subconsciously regulate our emotions and try to get a little boost,” she says. It's likely that cat videos elicit positive feelings because most of them are funny or cute. “I also think [they're] sort of a positive emotional oasis, so to say, between a lot of our other social media content, [which] may be depressing or annoying, even if it’s important, Myrick says. But a short cat video can give someone the energy to maybe attend to more important news or tasks afterward.”

Myrick—who, for the record, owns a pug (she’s allergic to cats)—thinks dog lovers would probably respond similarly to dog videos. And that makes her think that pet videos might have applications beyond just energy-producing procrastination: “There might be a way to use pet videos as some form of low-cost, readily available digital pet therapy,” she says, noting that we'll need more research to be sure.

14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles

Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.


A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.

So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.


A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.

It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: An eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.


Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.

Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch them themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).


Two bald eagles perched on a tree.

Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: The male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.


Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.

Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.


Two bald eagles in their large nest.

Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.


Two bald eagles in their large nest.

In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weigh about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.


A bald eagle flies across the water.

People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.


Baby eagle chicks in a nest.

Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.


An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.

You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.


A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.

It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.


Close-up of a bald eagle's face.

What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.


A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.

If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.


A bald eagle

There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

New Health-Monitoring Litter Box Could Save You a Trip to the Vet

Unsure if your cat is sick or just acting aloof per usual? A “smart toilet” for your fur baby could help you decide whether a trip to the vet is really necessary.

Enter the Pet Care Monitor: More than a litter box, the receptacle is designed to analyze cat urine for health issues, The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo reports. Created by the Japan-based Sharp Corporation—better known for consumer electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, and the world's first LCD calculator—the product will be available for purchase on the company’s website starting July 30 (although shipping limitations may apply).

Sensors embedded in the monitor can measure your cat’s weight and urine volume, as well as the frequency and duration of toilet trips. That information is then analyzed by an AI program that compares it to data gleaned from a joint study between Sharp Corp and Tottori University in Japan. If there are any red flags, a report will be sent directly to your smartphone via an application called Cocoro Pet. The monitor could be especially useful for keeping an eye on cats with a history of kidney and urinary tract problems.

If you have several cats, the company offers sensors to identify each pet, allowing separate data sets to be collected and analyzed. (Each smart litter box can record the data of up to three cats.)

The Pet Care Monitor costs about $225, and there’s an additional monthly fee of roughly $3 for the service. Sharp Corporation says it will continue developing health products for pets, and it has already created a leg sensor that can tell if a dog is nervous by measuring its heart and respiratory rates.

[h/t The Asahi Shimbun]


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