New research shows that photographing experiences usually increases positive feelings about them.
That’s because photography can “heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement,” researchers said in the study, which was published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
For the study, Kristin Diehl, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California, Gal Zauberman, Ph.D., of Yale University, and Alixandra Barasch, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a series of nine experiments involving more than 2,000 participants to examine the effect of taking photographs on people’s enjoyment of an activity.
In each experiment, individuals were asked to participate in an activity — such as taking a bus tour or eating in a food court — and were either instructed to take photos during the activity or not.
Afterward, participants completed a survey designed to measure not only their enjoyment, but their engagement in the experience. In almost every case, people who took photographs reported higher levels of enjoyment, according to the study’s findings.
While people might think that stopping to take photographs would detract from the whole experience and make it less pleasurable, participants who took photos reported being more engaged in the activity, according to the study.
“One critical factor that has been shown to affect enjoyment is the extent to which people are engaged with the experience,” the researchers noted in the study.
Taking photos naturally draws people more into the experience, they found.
In one experiment, individuals were instructed to take a self-guided tour of a museum exhibit while wearing glasses that tracked their eye movements. The researchers found that those who took photos spent more time examining the artifacts in the exhibit than those who simply observed.
There were some conditions, though, where taking photos did not have a positive effect, such as when the participant was already actively engaged in the experience.
For example, in one experiment, individuals were asked either to participate in an arts and crafts project or to observe one. While taking photos increased the enjoyment of observers, it did not affect enjoyment of those actively taking part in the experience, the researchers reported.
Another instance where taking photos did not appear to increase enjoyment was when it interfered with the experience itself, such as having to handle bulky and unwieldy camera equipment.
Additionally, photo-taking can make an unpleasant experience even worse, the study found.
In one instance, participants went on a virtual safari and observed a pride of lions attacking a water buffalo, a sight most people found aversive. People taking photos in that instance reported lower levels of enjoyment than those who saw the same encounter but did not take photos.
The researchers also discovered that this effect is not limited to the action of taking pictures. Participants in one experiment reported higher levels of enjoyment after just taking “mental” pictures as they were going through the experience, the study found.
While taking photos can increase enjoyment in many circumstances, this effect requires active participation, according to the researchers. Cameras that record any moment of an experience without the individual’s active decision of what to capture are unlikely to have the same effect, they noted.