When it comes to Internet culture, some may consider it safe to say that cats contribute a large amount of content to the mix. Some people find them cute, funny and enjoy watching and seeing them do things. But what is it about cats that makes the Internet fawn over them and how do cats affect a person’s brain chemistry? What are some examples of cat memes?
According to LCCC psychology instructor Jonathan Carrier, part of the interest in cats is due to their physical structuring.
“We’ve bred our dogs and cats to have very innocent and infantile looking faces,” Carrier said. “Cats have been bred to have very large eyes and puppies have very large eyes compared to the rest of their body. Well guess what else has very large eyes? Babies do, compared to the size of their body. I think a lot of it is triggering this maternal, caregiving instinct in both males and females and that’s why we like them so much.”
Carrier also said that the relatively small size of cats contributes to the caregiving instinct that people may feel when interacting with a cat.
In a New York Times article, opinion writer Abigail Tucker mentions some other interesting characteristics of cats that could possibly explain the internet’s fascination with them.
Tucker mentions the “snub” noses that cats use to lurk after prey and the round faces that are due to their short and powerful jaws.
“These facial features, a terrifying distillation of feline lethality, happen to also be what humans consider cute,” Tucker writes. “They remind us of our own faces, and especially of our babies, since humans, too, have big eyes planted in the center of our heads, which we use in large part to read the facial expressions of others. Through this uncanny but accidental interspecies resemblance, cat faces prime us to communicate, whether by post, tweet or pin.”
Going beyond the physicalities of cats, Tucker also mentions that even though cats have a similar resemblance to humans, they also look “perpetually deadpan,” which may be an explanation for why the Internet has created memes centered around cats: because their faces leave “blank spaces” that need to be filled in.
Cats themselves are just other mammals that exist in the world, but it’s a human’s perception that deems them “cute.” So, how does the brain chemistry break down?
According to Carrier, when a person sees something that they admire or find cute, “happy” chemicals are released in the brain.
“The idea behind that is that they (viewers) get happy chemicals in the brain, which usually we refer to as serotonin chemicals and dopamine chemicals,” Carrier said. “Things that are stimulating and things that are associated with good emotions, you might even get a slight endorphin release, all these things that are associated with happiness that’s reflected in the brain.”
Carrier also said that repeated interactions with cats creates new “pathways” in the brain.
“Brain follows behavior and behavior follows your brain. What I mean by that is: If I pick up a kitten or a cat or a dog or whatever, and I’m stroking the cat and I’m interacting with the cat, I’m being social with the cat, I get these social emotions,” Carrier said. “I get these brain chemicals that are associated with happiness and joy and stimulation and all this stuff. What that does over time if I keep doing that, it creates brain pathways that associate cats with happiness. I’ve created those pathways by interacting with cats and so now those pathways exist. So, when I see a cat, they get activated and I remember cats make me happy.”
LCCC health sciences major Gabi Estavillo said that she’s always had a love of cats because she feels like a lot of people dislike them and because of the different personalities each cat has.
“I really like seeing illustrations of cats,” Estavillo said. “On Tumblr they have some really great ones. I also love seeing cat vs. owner memes. Because I always go, ‘that is so me and my cat (Raven).’ And of course the notorious cat videos.”
The cat videos that Estavillo mentions only scratch the surface of the Internet’s cat content. Mashable writer Jessica Catcher started a compilation list of cat content that begins in December of 1998 and goes up to March of 2014. (You can find that list here: https://mashable.com/2014/03/26/internet-cat-history/#P2OVYgTBQsqa)
In this list, Catcher mentions both memes and specific cats that the Internet latched onto like the infamous “grumpy cat” (his name is actually Tardar Sauce), and another peculiar looking cat named Princess Monster Truck.
Along with Estavillo, LCCC paralegal studies major Samantha Murphy said that cat “personalities” are amazing and that a person can really tell the type of person they would be.
“I like so many things about my cats,” Murphy said. “They are easy to take care of and don’t require constant care and attention. I call them ‘piss off’ animals, haha. I like that they don’t get too big to sit in your lap. Ever. I love their noises like chittering and purring.”
As the Internet continues to expand and allow extensive communication and data sharing, its culture will continue to produce more content. More cat videos and memes have the potential to be among that content as the years progress, and maybe later they can form into a new type of Internet culture that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of.