More Photos, More Smiles?


Good news for my fellow photo enthusiasts: New research published by the American Psychological Association says that taking photos can make you enjoy an experience more, compared to not taking any.

Based on the results of nine studies, the researchers found that taking a photograph actually focuses your attention on an experience, increasing engagement. Some of the studies asked people to either take or not take photos during real-life activities, like going on a bus tour or eating a meal, while others were given their assignments while completing simulations in a lab. Interestingly enough, one study found that people who were asked to plan out the photos they would take (without actually taking any) also had greater enjoyment compared to non-photo-takers, suggesting the mental process rather than the mechanics are responsible for the boost.

There are three main caveats: First, the experience has to be a positive one for taking photos to have a beneficial effect, as researchers found that it worsens a negative experience. Also, the studies showed that the benefits are reduced if the act of taking photos is burdensome, and that the additional benefit isn’t there when an experience is already engaging, like an arts and craft project.

Personally, I love playing amateur photographer – as I’m sure my blog makes readily apparent – but I know plenty of people who think taking photos detracts from truly experiencing something. The research paper notes that some businesses and performers have banned cameras for that reason, but I don’t necessarily disagree with those rules because I think taking photos can be incredibly disruptive to the people around you in some situations (like in art museums: why, why is photographing paintings still a thing?)

Another question the researchers raise at the end of the paper is whether the motivation for taking a photo can affect enjoyment. “For example, an individual may take a photo so he can put it in his scrapbook to remind himself of the experience, or so he can post it on social media for all of his friends to see,” the paper states. That’s a division I’ve become increasingly aware of as a traveler and a blogger, always trying to keep a balance of taking photographs to share my experiences with far-away family and friends, and keeping some special, private moments just that – private.

Any thoughts on how taking photos affects your experiences? Send them my way at plaidshirtdiaries[at]yahoo[dot]com.

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