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You might have stumbled onto those videos of people cutting sand for 10 minutes or of machines doing a repetitive task and felt an odd sense of satisfaction while watching them. Today, we look at the psychology behind those "oddly satisfying" videos.

Kneading Silicone:
Cheese Slicing:

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You’ve probably been around the Internet long enough to have stumbled upon one of those so-called “oddly satisfying” videos.

They’re these ten-minute-long clips of some seriously weird stuff, like foam being cut into pieces, hands drawing perfect spirals, or machines slicing cheese. If you’ve never done it, you might be thinking there’s no way you’d watch ten minutes of that, but these videos have millions of views, and once you start watching them, you might find it kinda hard to stop.

They’re weirdly relaxing, and our brains love something about them. We’re still waiting for someone to publish a peer-reviewed study on oddly satisfying videos. But in the meantime, there are a few connected ideas in psychology that might explain what’s going on.

One possibility is that watching these videos could be similar to mindfulness or flow. You might’ve heard about mindfulness, which involves focusing on the present moment and acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings. It’s sometimes involved in meditation or yoga.

Flow is a little different — it’s a state of creative concentration that happens when an activity is at just the right level of difficulty. You feel in control of your actions, lose sense of time, and enjoy what you’re working on even if you aren’t accomplishing a goal. It’s like an artist working on a painting or a writer caught up in their story or a video blogger editing until late at night.

It’s one of my favorite things about making videos. These videos might do something similar, because they grab our attention and make us lose our sense of time and the outside world. It’s a great feeling.

It’s not a perfect comparison, though, because mindfulness and flow are both characterized by deliberate action and control on our part, and watching these videos is pretty passive. So some psychologists think there’s another explanation: Watching a project get completed in these videos -- like seeing someone perfectly frost a cake -- causes the same reaction in your brain as completing a goal in real life. When you finish a task, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that plays an important role in your brain’s reward and pleasure circuits.

In other words, getting stuff done literally feels good. And research also suggests that leaving things unfinished kinda drives us nuts. In a well-known study from 1927, 32 participants were given around 20 simple tasks, like solving puzzles and making figures out of clay.

They were allowed to finish some of the tasks, but others they had to abandon halfway through. After they’d worked on everything, they were asked to list off the tasks they’d been given. On average, they were almost twice as likely to remember something if they hadn’t been allowed to finish it.

This idea, that it’s harder to forget about things we haven’t finished, eventually became known as the Zeigarnik effect, named after the researcher who did these studies. And it’s been replicated in other research since then. So you could argue that oddly satisfying videos have to do with getting something just right or with finishing a task.

Stopping in the middle of one will bother us all day — that’s why it’s so frustrating when a gif ends too soon. But watching something to the end triggers our sense of completion … even though we’re definitely not checking things off our to-do list as we watch them. That explanation doesn’t work for all satisfying videos, though.

Some of them are pretty random, like glass melting or things exploding. So another possibility is that there’s something more fundamental about the videos that we like. They tend to be geometric and colorful, so maybe those colors and shapes are appealing to us.

Psychologists still aren’t sure which kinds of stimuli our brains prefer -- or if there’s even a universal set of preferences -- but we do know there are some features we tend to like better than others. No one knows exactly why, but there’s a long history of research showing that we prefer curved lines and circles to angled lines and polygons. And we definitely like symmetry.

We find it super attractive and use it to guesstimate a potential partner’s ability to reproduce. We’re also quick to spot it, and studies have shown we’re better at remembering symmetrical objects and designs. We’re really into patterns, too.

Some researchers argue that extreme pattern recognition is one of the defining capabilities of our brains, and that it developed as our brains evolved. So maybe the kinds of symmetrical, repetitive motions in oddly satisfying videos are the patterns our brains like. But again, we don’t know for sure.

None of these ideas are perfect explanations — they’re just things we know about our brains that could be involved somehow. All we know is that millions of people agree that there’s something about these videos that makes them satisfying to watch. Still, even if you can’t get no satisfaction about why these videos tickle your brain so good, you can get a whole bunch of it from watching them.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go watch a machine knead silicone over and over. Couldn’t put the clip in the video for you to watch, because that would be stealing. So, you have to go watch it too.

Or you could stick with us here at SciShow Psych and learn more weird things about the internet, like this video right here about what makes a meme go viral.