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Watching cute animal videos is good for your health

By Harriet Piercy

Sep 28, 2020

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Watching cute animal videos makes us feel good, we know that already—but now science is backing this up too, with data. A study conducted by the University of Leeds in partnership with Western Australia Tourism examined how watching images and videos of cute animals for 30 minutes drastically affects blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety.

An associate professor at the University of Leeds, Dr Andrea Utley, created a montage of animals that she assumed people would find cute. Speaking to CNN, she explained that “There were some kittens, [some] puppies, [some] baby gorillas. There were quokkas. You know, the usual stuff that you would expect.”

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the quokka is described as the world’s happiest animal. These small wallabies of Australia seem to wear a perpetual smile, and are the subject of countless selfies on Rottnest Island.

But what proof is there that watching these animals makes us truly healthier? Utley’s study involved nineteen students and teachers and was intentionally conducted in December 2019, during the students’ winter examinations, which is an understandably high stress period for students as well as teachers. While the 15 students and four staff members were made to watch 30 minutes of the animal compilation that Utley had created, the study recorded that average blood pressure dropped from 136 to 88 to 115 to 71, which he pointed out was an ideal blood pressure range.

Utley commented that “I was quite pleasantly surprised that during the session, every single measure for every single participant dropped some—heart rate reduced, blood pressure reduced, when they left, they filled the questionnaire in again and indicated that they were feeling less anxious.”

These students also concluded that they preferred the video clips over still images, especially when the animals interacted with humans. Due to COVID-19 setting off restrictions at the beginning of 2020, when Utley had hoped to continue a wider study, this in-person experiment was forced into postponement, however she is still exploring online options in order to keep the study running.

Canine companions and pets in general trigger similar neural pathways to the parent-baby bond, and reduce loneliness as well as depression. Because not all of us have access to a furry friend, videos of them seem to still trigger similar responses.

This is due to a form of social recognition, which is something humans share with a few (though not all) mammals. Next time you scroll through the video section on Facebook, you’ll notice you feel a little less like you’re wasting time and a little more like you’re taking care of yourself. Treat yourself.