Pluto the Talking Dog Is Good for Your Mental Health
Research reveals how cute animal videos improve mood.
Posted July 31, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Here I thought I was wasting my time watching cute animal videos. But nope! Science shows viewing cute images of animals can boost your mood, improve focus and even productivity.
When I’m in the swirl of uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety or depression, one of my tactics to manage the experience is to watch cute animal videos as therapy. And guess what? It really is therapeutic. Scientific studies demonstrate watching cute videos 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 a CBC interview, University of Victoria neuroscientist Olav Krigolson explains that when “you are not expecting to see something cute and cuddly and then you see it, it's perceived by the brain as a reward." 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." So 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 in The Conversation, Jessica Myrick, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Penn State, writes “some 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.
Cynthia Johnston, 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 is defined by Psychology Today as a skill “geared toward increasing a person's tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it.”
So my foray into viral videos of bears in hammocks and the antics of dogs when I'm feeling edgy isn't just fluff or wasted time.
I say “Power to the Puppy.” Oh and if you’re a cat fan (I’m learning to be more of a meow buff), how about “Kudos to the Kitty”?
So go ahead. Click on a couple or more cutesy piglet videos. No need for guilt. Your brain will thank you for it.
© Victoria Maxwell