Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Why Are We So Obsessed With the Panda Cam? Why Are We So Obsessed With the Panda Cam?

This ad will end in seconds
 
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation
 

 

Politics

Why Are We So Obsessed With the Panda Cam?

For many Americans, shutting down the U.S. government was one thing. But being cut off from a continuous feed of cute bears was quite another.

The National Zoo's yet-unnamed baby panda is looking much flufflier than she did before the government shutdown began.(Courtney Janney/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

photo of Marina Koren
October 18, 2013

When the government reopened Thursday morning, hundreds rushed hungrily to their computers to check something the shutdown had kept them from for more than two weeks. They were not necessarily the furloughed federal employees, previously barred from logging into their work email accounts, playing catch-up with bloated inboxes. They were the denizens of the Internet, who had gone far too long without their panda fix.

The National Zoo, along with the rest of the Smithsonian Institution, closed its doors Oct. 1 when the government shut down. It took its famous Giant Panda Cam, an online live stream of the zoo's most popular residents, with it. Shutting down the U.S. government for the first time in 17 years was one thing, the Internet collectively roared, but cutting America off from a continuous feed of cute animals was quite another.

So, it came as no surprise that the zoo's announcement of the stream's return Thursday morning, along with updates on the growth of the yet-unnamed 8-week-old cub, daughter of giant panda Mei Xiang, was met with overwhelming, bordering on irrational, excitement. "Time for happy tears!" commented one user on the zoo's Facebook page. "Good to have things back to NORMAL" wrote another. "The world is a much better place with panda cam back in operation!" said a third.

 

A CNN ticker read "Gov't reopens, panda cam returns."

Within 10 minutes of the stream's return Thursday, the cam reached its full capacity for viewers, 850 connections, and stayed there all day, National Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. In August, days after the cub's celebrated birth, demand stretched the website's bandwidth enough for the zoo to instate a viewing limit of 15 minutes per user (people watching using the zoo's smartphone app can stream to their hearts' desire). "I don't believe the Smithsonian Institution's bandwidth will allow for more connections," Baker-Masson said Friday afternoon.

This won't stop the panda cam's growing cult following. America has become obsessed, and it's easy to see why.

For humans, aggressive responses to cuteness are the norm. A recent study found that participants who watched a slideshow of photos deemed adorable popped more bubbles on a sheet of bubble wrap than did participants who looked at funny or neutral photos. Their reaction explains why we want to "squish" something or "just eat it up" when it's too cute for us mere mortals to handle. Out of context, these are rather violent responses, but they are born of our extreme responses to cute objects, like baby pandas.

The baby element is key here. Baby animals and baby humans share similar facial features, like chubby cheeks, oversize foreheads, and big, vulnerable eyes, which trigger an ancient protective mechanism in humans that makes us want to care for our offspring. When baby animals, especially domesticated creatures like cats and dogs, grow older, they retain some of their juvenile-like features, a phenomenon known as pedomorphism, enough to stay just as cute to us.

"I know this is a wild animal. I realize we aren't supposed to think of them this way," a Facebook user wrote on the zoo's page. "But….I just want to CUDDLE THIS BABY!!"

Yes, humans love cute things way too much. But staying glued to the panda cam at the office isn't necessarily a bad thing. Research suggests that looking at cute images of baby animals may improve our work performance. A 2009 study found that viewing cute images, such as of puppies and kittens, improved participants' performance in a game of Operation. Exposure to cute animals, the authors concluded, boosted participants' focus, attention to detail, and careful behavior.

The zoo stoked the nation's panda fever further when it posted a video of the cub, looking much fluffier than she did before the shutdown began, on its Facebook page on Thursday. Reactions indicate Americans are glad their favorite animal cam (there are others, guys) is back. "I was afraid we were going to miss those little eyes open but I'm just so happy to have her and Mom back," wrote one user. "I hope she can hear all of us cheering we've got her back. I SEE BABY NOW!!!!!"

Play of the Day: Wanted: Iranian Space Monkeys
Are you an aspiring monkey astronaut? Join the Iranian space program today!

Job Board
Search Jobs
Digital and Content Manager, E4C
American Society of Civil Engineers | New York, NY
PRODUCT REVIEW ENGINEER
American Society of Civil Engineers | CA
Neighborhood Traffic Safety Services Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Bellevue, WA
United Technologies Research Fellow
American Society of Civil Engineers | New York, NY
Process Engineering Co-op
American Society of Civil Engineers | Conshohocken, PA
Electrical Engineer Co-op
American Society of Civil Engineers | Findlay, OH
Application Engineer/Developer INTERN - Complex Fluids
American Society of Civil Engineers | Brisbane, CA
Application Engineer - Internships CAE/CFD Metro Detroit
American Society of Civil Engineers | Livonia, MI
Chief Geoscientist
American Society of Civil Engineers
Application Engineer - Internships CAE/CFD Metro Boston
American Society of Civil Engineers | Burlington, MA
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Civil Enginering Intern - Water/Wastewater/Site-Development
American Society of Civil Engineers | Sacramento, CA
Staff Accountant
American Society of Civil Engineers | Englewood, CO
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
 
Comments
comments powered by Disqus