Who hasn’t spent a few minutes (or hours) watching animal videos online when they were feeling low? Those puppies, kittens, and goats are adorable, sure, but the reason they make us smile goes deeper than that. Here are three science-backed reasons that animals improve our mental health — and can actually help us function better (as well as feel better!).
They chase the blues away.
“Watching animal videos instantly releases the feel-good hormone dopamine into your brain for a burst of happiness!” explains neuroscientist Olav Krigolson, Ph.D. How it works: “When we see something cute and cuddly, especially if we’re not expecting to, it is perceived by the brain as a reward.” To get the benefits, simply visit YouTube and search “cute animals” to find an abundance of adorable videos that are sure to boost your mood!
They help us focus.
In a study at Japan’s University of Hiroshima, researcher Hiroshi Nittono, Ph.D., found that looking at pictures of puppies improved participants’ performance and concentration, and it makes them behave more deliberately and carefully in their work. This effect is so well-known that online animal photos have been dubbed internet “flouff.” Feeling scattered? Search #flouff on Instagram or #CutenessOverload on Twitter for a quick uptick in productivity!
They reduce our stress.
Going for a “wildlife walk” can dramatically improve your well-being, says psychologist Linda Wasmer Andrews, M.A. “Pay attention to bird sounds in particular — they foster a connection with nature that research shows radically reduces stress,” she says. Can’t get outdoors? Download the free app Naturespace. Studies show that simply listening to wildlife sounds can have the same positive and calming effects.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.