Here's a provocative headline from Medical News Today: Viewing cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions. That sounds like exciting news to me: The causal claim implies that we should watch some of those cute kitty videos to feel better!
Let's take a look at the study behind the headline. The journalist's story covers a recent publication in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior. As the study's author told the journalist,
"We all have watched a cat video online, but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us," added Myrick, who owns a pug but no cats. "As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon."
So far, so good. Empiricism is a great way to answer questions about pop culture phenomena. So what did they do?
The study, by assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and how it affects their moods. It was published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior. Lil Bub's owner, Mike Bridavsky, who lives in Bloomington, helped distribute the survey via social media.
A survey, then. Here are some of the results:
Participants in Myrick's study reported that:
- They were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before
- The pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating
- About 25 percent of the cat videos they watched were sought out; the rest were ones they happened upon
Time to analyze this causal claim.
a) What are the variables in the journalist's causal headline, "viewing cat videos boosts energy and mood?"
b) What kind of a study does it take to establish this causality? How might you have designed such a study?
c) What kind of study seems to have been conducted here? Do the results support the causal claim? If not, what would a more appropriate headline be for a story on this study?
Finally, the journalist mentions that LilBub's owner advertised the study on his website, and that for each person who took the survey, he donated money to the APSCA, which supports animal welfare. Over 7000 people completed it.
d) One result from the study is that "about 36 percent described themselves as a cat person, while about 60 percent said they like both cats and dogs." Can we assume from the results and the methodology that 96% of people are animal (either cat or dog) lovers?
If you would like to read the published empirical study, you can download it here.