But why have cats specifically been so successful at soliciting our attention? One hypothesis is that there is a fateful link between cats and human babies that explains their Internet stardom. According to Michael Newall, a philosopher of art at the University of Kent, our inordinate interest in cats may derive from their formal resemblance to our offspring—their big eyes, smallish noses, and dome-shaped heads trigger the evolutionary nurturing instincts that we have evolved toward babies. There may even be a multiplying “superstimulus” effect at work: Newall posits that the exaggerated proportions of cats’ baby-like features prompt an exaggeratedly intense, and involuntary, response in people.
But the reason that cats have catapulted to cyber-fame isn’t purely biological: There are social factors at play as well. Steve Dale, a cat behavior consultant and pet journalist, told me that cat aficionados have been particularly drawn to the Internet because they lack other public safety valves where they can express their affection. “In the world of cats, there is no dog park,” Dale says. “For cat owners, the dog park is the Internet.”