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Cat videos will make your employees more productive – No, really

Viral videos are obviously expected to entertain, but they're also doing other really important stuff, too. According to a new study, the time people spend watching cat videos can help them push through procrastination.
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Jessica Myrick of Indiana University’s Media School has a habit of following media trends, and she’s recently pawed into the impact of of arguably the world’s biggest internet infatuation: cat videos.

The result, as was published in the “Computers in Human Behaviour” journal, was that watching cat videos may not only be the solution to stop eating apples in order to keep the doctor away, but has an impact on productivity as well. 

Myrick claimed that even if people watched cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help them take on tough tasks afterward. In other words, watching cat videos could make you a force to be reckoned with in the office – and it’s all because watching cats fall, chase things, or get humiliated by being dressed in shark suits, make us happy.

“It’s a huge part of our media diet,” Myrick said. “We need to understand how it impacts us.”

Interestingly, Myrick found that 75 per cent of those she surveyed said they didn’t take the time to search for videos, but the videos managed to find them anyway. As for those that went out of their way to look up videos comprising of surprised kittens or grumpy cats, they started off feeling guilty for choosing entertainment over work, but that soon got cancelled out by the joy they received from the videos.

So should employers start investing in screens displaying cats around the office? Maybe not to that extent, but Myrick is convinced that the concept has potential.

“Maybe that’s why we watch so often at work – because we’re stressed and looking to regulate our emotions,” she said.

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Of course, Myrick defended the study against charges of it being a waste of time by suggesting that despite some thinking watching online cat videos wasn’t a serious enough topic for academic research, it is still one of the most popular uses of the internet today. “If we want to better understand the effects the internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can’t ignore internet cats anymore,” she said.

It’s certainly not the first time that the viral fad was linked with corporate behaviour. A Japanese study found that looking at pictures of cute things, such as fluffy cats, boosted a person’s focus. Cute objects were helpfully defined in the report as “a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth”.

Cute things, according to these experts, are creatures with “a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth”. 

Hiroshi Nittono and his colleagues at Hiroshima University carried out three experiments. The first involved a game of Operation – where players had to remove objects from a toy patient without touching the edges of the cavity and sounding a buzzer. Half of the players were then made to look at images of cute kittens and puppies. The other half looked at adult cats and dogs. The ones who had seen the baby animals performed much better the second time around. The results were the same for the other two tests.

“Kawaii [cute]things not only make us happier, but also affect our behaviour,” Nittono said. “This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioural carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”

There we go, cute cats are good for your work – and that’s a scientifically-proven fact. That is, unless you’re Bob. Verizon top programmer, known only to the media as Bob, found out the hard way that too many cat videos has the opposite effect.

Essentially, he actually outsourced his own job to China so that he could spend more time surfing the net and watching cat videos. He was eventually caught in an investigation.

Operator Verizon says the scam came to light after the US firm asked it for an audit, suspecting a security breach. It turns out that the investigators were called in after the company discovered that someone was consistently logging into the firm’s main computer from Shenyang in China – using Bob’s passwords.

The employee, an “inoffensive and quiet” but talented man versed in several programming languages, spent less than one fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him, said Verizon’s Andrew Valentine.

Needless to say, Bob no longer works there. 

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Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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