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Yes, Cute Animal Videos Can Actually Boost Your Mental Health

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How ya holding up? Pretty wild, draining, unusual and challenging times, huh? I’ve been pretty up and down. I found something hopeful and fun and want to share it with you.

Back in April I was having a really hard time and watched some YouTube videos of adorable animals. They made me laugh, but I felt guilty. Distracting myself with silly videos — that can’t be helpful, right? I’m just wasting my time, right? But nope! Research shows cute can equal a boost in mood. I think we could all use some good news about our guilty pleasures.

Scientific studies demonstrate watching these kinds of clips is a tonic for our brain and can increase positive emotions. We release all sorts of feel-good chemicals when we see something cute and novel — we’re wired to positively respond to cuteness. My most recent “therapy session” has been with Pluto the Talking Dog.

In an interview with CBC, University of Victoria neuroscientist Olav Krigolson explains: “You are not expecting to see something cute and cuddly and then you see it, it’s perceived by the brain as a reward,” said Krigolson. The cute image triggers the chemical reward system and the brain receives a mini dose of dopamine.

The benefit is even stronger when reward and emotions are paired together, Krigolson explains. The amygdala (a part of the brain involved with experiencing emotions) is turned on when you stare at cute pictures or videos. But the trick here is that the image needs to be a surprise otherwise the reward system won’t get “tripped.”

Who woulda thought surfing for different cute puppy videos or getting new ones from your friends isn’t a bad thing after all? In moderation, of course. Spending an hour watching the cute and cuddly isn’t what we’re talking about here. Mini-breaks of staring at lovable little cats or hedgehogs that you’ve never seen before is all that’s needed to grab a dose of dopamine.

Findings in a survey of 7000 internet users revealed similar outcomes for improved mood and increased energy. In an article for The Conversation, Jessica Myrick, associate professor of media studies at Penn State, writes: “Aome research suggests that taking short breaks for a mood-boosting activity, be it petting an actual dog or watching a video of one online, may not only improve your mood but also decrease stress or re-energize you when you do return to your work.”

This Hiroshima University study shows watching cute animal videos improves focus and productivity too.

Cythnia Johnson, a psychotherapist and social worker in Toronto, was pleasantly surprised to see the science behind watching cute animal videos. Johnson suggests it to her clients and explains to them: “They may find watching cute animal videos a great ‘distress tolerance’ activity. For my clients, such videos could be used as a distracting activity or as a means to replace emotion with another emotion.”

Distress tolerance, which is a key element in dialectal behavior therapy (DBT), is defined by Psychology Today as, “geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it.”

My foray into viral videos of bears in hammocks and the antics of dogs isn’t just fluff or wasted time.

Let’s hear it: “power to the puppies.” Oh, and if you’re a cat fan — I’m learning to be more of a meow buff — how about “kudos to the Kitty?”

Now go ahead; click on a couple or five. No need for guilt. Your brain will thank you for it. What are the cute animal videos you watch? C’mon, I know you watch ’em, from time-to-time, at least. No shame in that. Remember, you’re doing something good for you and your brain.

For more cute pets from the Mighty community, follow #MightyPets.

See more from Victoria on her website.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Originally published: October 1, 2020
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