Stress-Relieving Benefits of Watching Cute Animal Videos

Cute puppy and kitten

dixi / iStock

Social media provides us with a constant influx of content. From political ads to our acquaintances' "humblebrags," much of this content can stress us out (though we are not always aware of it).

However, in the sea of stress-inducing posts, there is also a completely different (and often under-appreciated) category of social content: pictures and videos of cute animals. Light-hearted, heart-warming, and even silly at times, such content is sometimes seen to be lacking substance or considered a time-waster—but there might be more to it.

Research has found that it might actually be beneficial for us to take in more "fluffy" (literally and figuratively) social media content. In fact, some studies have suggested that watching cute animal videos can lift your mood and help build your resilience to stress.

Here's a brief overview of what some studies have found when exploring whether watching cute animal videos can really help reduce stress, as well as other evidence-backed ways to boost your mood and productivity.

The Case for Cute Animal Videos

When you're scrolling through your newsfeed, you might not realize that the barrage of content is overwhelming you. Research has shown that several types of social media posts can be quite stress-inducing for people—even if they are just passively exposed to the content when browsing.

For example, a study from the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that many people consider encountering political posts and discussions online to be a significant source of stress in their lives.

Research has also shown that the social comparison that’s facilitated by social media can be a real source of stress. It can make us feel bad about ourselves as we compare our regular lives to the best versions of others’ lives (which make up the majority of some people’s posts, sometimes taking the form of a "humblebrag").

Online conversations can quickly turn into conflicts. Even if we aren't involved directly, just reading them can stress us out (even if we don't realize it at the time).

Cute animal content, however, is not as likely to stress you out. Several studies have hinted at the benefits of viewing pictures of cute animals, and these benefits might actually be more far-reaching than one would think.

While no single study provides a complete picture, a group of studies seems to show a link between cute animal videos and less stress—and possibly greater satisfaction with many areas of life.

Cute Animals May Increase Relationship Satisfaction

A study led by James McNulty of Florida State University found that cute animal photos could be used to improve marital satisfaction. At the start of the study, the researchers asked 144 couples who had been married for less than 5 years to complete marital satisfaction surveys.

Then, the researchers divided the couples into groups and had each group view a stream of images three times a week for six weeks. The couples in the experimental group saw a stream of images that included their partner paired with images associated with positive affects such as visuals of cute animals or positive words like “wonderful." The other group saw pictures of their partners paired with neutral objects like buttons.

After six weeks, the group who had been viewing the images including cute animal pictures paired with their spouses had more positive automatic responses to their spouses. Additionally, they demonstrated more satisfaction with their marriages and improvements of a higher degree than those in the control groups.

Lifting Your Mood Can Build Resilience

In the early 2000s, a series of studies by researcher Barbara Fredrickson found that by lifting their mood (“inducing positive effect"), a person can broaden the range of options they see in their lives. In turn, people become more aware of the potential resources available to them and are able to build on those resources.

This process can lead to more positive moods, greater resource-building, and, in essence, an “upward spiral of positivity” that leads to greater resilience to stress, among many other things. Research has found that many things are linked in this upward spiral, which makes it highly beneficial.

Increased positivity can be triggered by virtually anything that gets us into a more positive emotional state, but cute animals seem to do the job especially well.

Videos Are Great Mood-Changers

Researchers are trying to determine which positive affect-induction techniques work the best. Examples of potential mood-boosting activities include gratitude journaling, visualizing good things happening to us, loving-kindness meditations, and more.

Positive videos, however, have been found to be one of the strongest good-mood-inducers. A 2015 review of studies found that videos had a stronger effect on mood than music or several other mood-induction techniques.

It seems that in moderation, videos of things that lift our mood—like cute animals—can give us “upward positivity spirals," which induce life satisfaction and resilience to stress.

Cute Animals May Boost Productivity

A study by Japanese researcher Hiroshi Nittono found that participants who viewed pictures of puppies, Grumpy Cat videos, or watched panda cams experienced a boost in certain performance tasks.

In the study, subjects performed several tasks that required skill and concentration (including playing the board game, “Operation”) before and after viewing pictures of baby animals, adult animals, and neutral items like food.

Those who viewed the cute animal pictures performed significantly better than the other two groups. Researchers attributed the increased performance to a few factors including the fact that viewing the videos appeared to help participants narrow their focus.

Other Ways to Boost Your Mood

In addition to watching videos of cute animals, there are many other ways to boost positive affect and let the mood boost give you a life boost. Exercise, seeing a good friend, even enjoying a cup of tea are just a few things you can experiment with and incorporate into your day-to-day life.

You can try these activities in conjunction with cute-animal-video-viewing or on their own. You can never have too many mood boosters in your stress-busting arsenal.

Gratitude Journaling

At the beginning of your day, list three things for which you are grateful. You can also do this at the end of the day, listing things that happened that day or people you saw that provoked a sense of gratitude.

You can elaborate as much as you like with each entry, but even a brief list can help you to feel better about your life and give you a mood boost that you can carry with you throughout the day.

Positive Visualizations

One technique for using positive mental imagery asks you to spend a few minutes visualizing positive events happening to you. The events can be good things that have happened in the past, fantasy events (such as winning the lottery), or your hopes for the future (such as getting your dream job).

Spend this time imagining in detail how you felt when an event happened or thinking about how you would feel if it happened. Try to remember or imagine all the sensory details, emotions, as well as what happens next.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation has been repeatedly shown to have many benefits for happiness and a sense of connection. Depending on how much time you have, you can use the technique for a few minutes or do a 15- to 20-minute meditation.

  1. Start by simply imagining that you are feeling positive. Think about directing peaceful feelings toward yourself and embracing yourself with positivity.
  2. Next, expand the good feelings and extend them toward those in your family and your closest friend.
  3. Extend the circle of acquaintances—and even your enemies—until you are thinking about everyone in the world and envisioning positive feelings toward them.

A Word From Verywell

Even though enjoying cute animal videos can be their own reward, you might find yourself hesitant to watch them if you feel that they are unimportant—especially compared to the serious or ego-enhancing content on social media. You might feel that watching cute animal videos is simply a waste of time with everything else that is going on in the world.

You should remember, however, that stress management and emotional self-care are important to our ability to function well in our lives as well as to be resilient enough to be there for each other. That makes our “fluffy,” feel-good pastimes seem a little less frivolous.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fredrickson BL. The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotionsAm Psychol. 2001;56(3):218-226. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218

  2. American Psychological Association. Stress in America 2019.

  3. Mcnulty JK, Olson MA, Jones RE, Acosta LM. Automatic associations between one's partner and one's affect as the proximal mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction: Evidence from evaluative conditioning. Psychol Sci. 2017;28(8):1031-1040. doi:10.1177/0956797617702014

  4. Garland EL, Fredrickson B, Kring AM, Johnson DP, Meyer PS, Penn DL. Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity: Insights from the broaden-and-build theory and affective neuroscience on the treatment of emotion dysfunctions and deficits in psychopathology. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):849-64. doi:10.10162Fj.cpr.2010.03.002

  5. Ferrer RA, Grenen EG, Taber JM. Effectiveness of internet-based affect induction procedures: A systematic review and meta-analysisEmotion. 2015;15(6):752-762. doi:10.1037/emo0000035

  6. Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H. The power of Kawaii: Viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(9):e46362. doi:10.13712Fjournal.pone.0046362

  7. Seaward, B. L. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Wellbeing, 7th Edition, 2011.

  8. Zeng X, Chiu CPK, Wang R, Oei TPS, Leung FYK. The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic reviewFront Psychol. 2015;6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.