Taking photos makes experiences ... better?

According to new research, snapping photos makes us enjoy pleasant experiences even more(Credit: Anja Pietsch / C.C. 2.0)

You've probably either said it yourself, or had it said to you: Stop taking all those photos, and just enjoy the experience. Indeed, it does make sense to think that picture-taking "removes" you from a situation, changing you from being a participant to being an observer. According to a new multi-university study, however, getting snapshots can actually make you enjoy experiences more.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. It involved nine experiments utilizing over 2,000 participants.

In those experiments, test subjects took part in experiences such as going on a bus tour or eating in a food court. In all cases, participants were instructed to either take photos of what they were seeing and doing, or to take none. Almost invariably, when they subsequently rated their enjoyment of the activity, the picture-takers said they enjoyed it more.

According to the researchers, this is because taking photos increases a person's engagement in an activity – they're constantly looking for the most interesting aspects of it and then documenting those, instead of just being along for the ride. This viewpoint was borne out by an experiment in which participants observed artwork in a gallery while wearing eye-tracking glasses. It turned out that the photo-takers moved their eyes more, more thoroughly examining the works.

There are some situations, however, in which being a photographer doesn't add to the experience.

When performing activities that are already fairly immersive, such as making arts and crafts for instance, adding picture-taking to the mix made no difference. Additionally, it can make unpleasant experiences even worse – when test subjects went on a virtual safari and observed a water buffalo being attacked by lions, the people who had to take photos reported a more negative experience than those who just watched.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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