Why Are Oddly Satisfying Videos So…Satisfying?

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 15, 2017 11:58 am


If you’ve never seen a master lathe operator at work, I highly recommend it. Deft movements and practiced flourishes turn a block of spinning wood into a bedpost, top, bowl or some other circular object, each motion peeling away curls of wood to uncover the beauty hidden inside.

It’s hard to explain why the motions feel so right, but there is an undeniable allure to the work, as if it scratches an itch you didn’t know you had.

As it will, the internet discovered lathe turners — and pastry chefs, calligraphers, industrial machines, baristas and 3-D printers — and found it liked them. Grouped under the clickbait-friendly term “oddly satisfying” you’ll find video compilations—often attracting millions of views—of people and machines doing repetitive tasks with skill and precision.

There’s something inexplicable about their appeal, as the befuddled comments that accompany the videos attest. No one can articulate precisely why they can’t tear their eyes away. The titles that adorn most of them seem to actually sum up their appeal quite well: oddly satisfying, indeed—but why?

That Goldilocks Feeling

Hard answers may be lacking, but the oddly satisfying videos appear to tap into a subconscious urge toward what psychologists call a “just right” feeling. It’s the sensation that arises when we’ve put things in order, and serves as a useful cut-off point for simple tasks. It’s also what often goes wrong in individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For reasons not quite understood, some people with OCD don’t interpret the sensory cues that indicate the job is done, leaving them searching fruitlessly for a sense of completion. The quest for finality often leads to things like continually arranging objects, checking doors repeatedly to see if they are locked or cleaning things uncontrollably.


In fact, OCD was the first thing that jumped to mind when Sarah Keedy, the director of the Cognition-Emotion Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Chicago, first viewed an oddly satisfying compilation.

“It was nothing I sat around and thought about, it hit me right away,” Keedy says. “It was truly an overwhelming sense of this is a series of visual depictions of things that struck me as rewarding experiences that … [people with OCD] tend to be going for to a pathological degree.”

Gears fitting snugly together and swirls of frosting alighting perfectly on pastries seem to satisfy an existential longing. In a world of chaos and inelegance it can be reassuring to see order, control. If anything, the videos reveal that people with OCD aren’t anomalous in their desire to bring a pleasing equilibrium to their lives. These videos may offer a glimpse into the catharsis that the disorder denies those affected by it. Watch a few videos and see how comforting it feels. Now imagine you were always just on the edge of achieving that sensation.

The oddly satisfying sweet spot was most recently examined by researchers from Spain. They gave people with OCD and a control group a word recall task and cut them off in the middle of completing it. They theorized that a task involving ordering and checking something, words in this case, would activate their internal “just right” sensors. Stopping them before finishing would then trigger unease. Their hypothesis was right: People in the control group felt uncomfortable when something was left undone, and for the OCD participants, it was even worse (two of them even mailed completed lists to the researchers afterwards to satisfy their urge for finality.)

Isn’t This Intuitive?

The researchers’ findings are hardly groundbreaking; of course we don’t like to leave tasks unfinished. Extrapolating this idea to the oddly satisfying videos, it’s fairly clear why watching a ball fit neatly into a cylinder is appealing. But this phenomenon can’t be boxed up so neatly.

These compilations also feature equally satisfying clips that depict the destruction of order—the opposite of completion. Kinetic sand being cut, jello falling, melted chocolate being poured over a dessert to crack it open — all of these things also fall under the “oddly satisfying” umbrella, but there’s no happy ending per se. Perhaps, there’s something else in play.

Instead of thinking about the videos from a holistic perspective, as Keedy does, Ladan Shams, a psychology professor at UCLA whose lab examines multisensory perception, thinks of them in terms of their constituent parts: shapes, colors and movements. Shams and researchers like her want to understand the elements that guide our preferences; preferences that are so basic we don’t even think about them.


“There are a lot of things that influence our preferences that we are not aware of consciously, and which may relate to even very low-level processing in the brain,” Shams says.

Watching a video of a wooden bowl materializing from a spinning lathe is pleasing, but only because a series of small, discrete actions have checked off the boxes that underlie what we think “pleasing” is. Researchers are only beginning to break down our sensory experiences into their constituent parts, and Shams says that the oddly satisfying videos serve to highlight the inadequacies of the field so far.

“I think this phenomenon may be underlining the need to do more research in this area, to understand what drives our preferences,” she says. “That, in my opinion, is the take-home message from these videos.”

Shams’ lab is currently studying the ways personality traits and emotional states shape our preferences, with the goal of discovering how both genetics and even transient conditions play into the equation.

What is Quality? It’s a Tough Question

In a way, the question is reminiscent of the debate around what makes great art. It’s prohibitively difficult (and some would say counter to the notion of art itself) to describe in scientific terms what makes a Picasso or a Monet appealing.

Getting to the core of the issue, however, could give us more than better marketing tactics or more satisfying consumer goods. Our preferences are integral to who we are, and knowing what shapes them lets researchers peer deeper into the human psyche.

This line of scientific inquiry is sure to take us down many paths and generate numerous hypotheses, however. That two researchers emerged from the YouTube rabbit hole with totally different takes hints at the difficulty of the task. Whatever is going on in these videos stimulates our neurons in complex and multifaceted ways. Scratching a “just right” itch and offering up perceptual pleasure might be just two of the many ways oddly satisfying videos gratify us.

When it comes to explaining the allure of these videos, there are, sadly, no satisfying answers.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: senses
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The Accountant (2016),
    Youtube v=mdYBcbmXQmU
    …”need to finish”
    Yotube v=ER4L4rw1mgQ
    …”I’m not finished”

    to understand what drives our preferences” Be your own cause.
    How can you hope to understand what you can never comprehend?

    • GWDash

      Wow, those scenes are powerful! I haven’t seen the accountant, but I plan to now.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com/ CarolAST

    Those are very irritating because they stop short of actual completion and jump back to the beginning. It’s not over until all the pieces have stopped moving.

    • OWilson

      And the cigarette is lit?

      Premature termination of a fascinating process is bound to be unsatisfying!

      • http://www.smokershistory.com/ CarolAST

        That too!

    • Maxwell Herrick

      The cake and the cherries give me that feeling, too. Mostly because that “jump back to the beginning” is *literally* impossible to miss, but the close-up slow-motion drill head is sooo seamless… Like a perfect circle… There are not enough words to describe this except “oddly satisfying” but, *oddly* enough, that phrase alone doesn’t *satisfy* me.

  • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

    Upon seeing the first seconds of one I decided to view together with my wife. After about four of five seconds we found them to be oddly-dissatisfying.

  • jonathanpulliam

    I loved the u-tube clip of Obama’s former Harvard Law School Professor, the renowned Brazilian politician / philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Ungar in which he tears the then 1-term Kenya-CIA crypto-mole a new you know what — duration 7 minutes — Priceless !!

    • eibhear


    • Sandy Gibbs

      why do you Republicans make everything about politics? Talk about obsessive>

      • jonathanpulliam

        Whatever made you conclude that I’m Republican? I’m a patriotic American Democrat my whole life. You Communists need to give us our party back!

        • ECarpenter

          Oh, dear. One of *them*.

          • jonathanpulliam

            He that coppeth feel on ‘titty-that-t’isn’t his’n’
            Quits the race or goes to prison.

      • Seso

        It’s lefties that keep going on about politics the most. They are all over the media and never shut up about Trump and “ism’s” all the time.

  • beccalouise

    This is just part of what is happening. The clips go very quickly. I have never seen a video in real time of a master carpenter or a master anything build something that perfectly fits together in real time be listed under the oddly satisfying videos. There is something about the speed of the clips flying by, it can put you in a trance, and often trance music accompanies the video.

  • Sandy Gibbs

    I have been watching wood turning videos, candy making videos (
    hard candy made into canes, etc) and pimple popping videos. I find them highly satisfying and I watch them before bedtime. I do have a mild case of OCD….so all this makes perfect sense.

  • ECarpenter

    We don’t know much at all about how brains work – we can’t see the cascades of trillions of molecular changes that are happening constantly in the brain, for one thing. And if we had the instrumentation to observe those, we don’t have the computing power to process what we observed. It will be many decades before we understand why these videos are so satisfying.

    • Tom W

      Well until then, just sit back and enjoy visualizing those trillions of molecules in action.

  • jonathanpulliam

    The brain likes curves better than sharp corners.

  • John3936

    The heck with oddly satisfying how about enjoyable? I had no idea until a few years ago that I could blow through a couple of hours of watching Youtube without even trying. I love trains and I found videos of trains and I found videos of trains plowing through snow drifts with plows. And then of course the videos of the babies and children of family and friends. And then of course back to cool videos of boats, engines and RC planes. There are great videos on just about any subject you can think of. My point is satisfying is one reaction however we also go to pleasure and enjoyment with many videos we watch and seek out.

  • Sandy Gibbs

    I watch lathe turning, hard candy making, sand scuplting, and so forth. I have…surprise… a mild form of OCD. So, I guess I discovered it on my own. Relaxes me every night before bed

  • I_of_Horus

    Just watched two of those vids and some clips reliably (after rewinding a few times) gave me a sort of anxious tingling just below the stomach and at the top of the palate. Oddly satisfying? Maybe. Just plain odd? Oh yeah!

  • Seso

    Isn’t this just ASMR? It’s a great feeling for those that can feel it. I started getting it as a kid when I’d hear someone explaining something, or at the hairdressers. Now I also get it when when watching people french polishing furniture or cleaning windows. I just have to sit and let it happen and enjoy the feeling.

    I know – to anybody that doesn’t understand it, it will sound weird, but it’s a really nice, innnocent, blissful feeling.

  • Serenity Feueropal

    I may be the only person that feels this way, but satisfying compilations do nothing for me. My reaction has always been neutral, bordering on bored.

  • Jeanette Haddock

    Some are a texture thing, in a way related to foods and tastes, even though the object on screen isn’t that it’s like a comparison. Some things that are “satisfying” bother me to the bone. But things like slime videos, where people will break into a layer of crispy foam on top into slime in the bottom, that is a wonderful, stimulating feeling, but it’s the anticipation that this uneven layer will be completely mixed and even in the end that feels so wonderful. If it is left unmixed, it’s torturous. Alot of these, I think it’s our own subliminal comparisons to personal enjoyable things, others I feel it is the anticipation of a beautifully completed task, the reward


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