I’ve always felt bad for people who lug an unwieldy camera with them on vacation or to special events. Slave to the gods of Canon, Nikon and Sony, they seem more intent on peering through those giant lenses than they do on having an actual experience. “Be here now,” I smugly think to myself. Turns out, I was wrong.
At least, that was the conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research suggests that people who document their adventures with a photo often enjoy them more than those people—like me—who simply stand around gathering mental images. Uh oh.
Researchers used nine experiments, both in the lab and in the field, working with 2,000 participants. Study participants were asked to do an activity, such as taking a bus tour or visiting a museum exhibit, and afterward, completed a survey that rated their enjoyment and engagement. In nearly every scenario, researchers found, photo taking added to people’s gratification. For example, when visiting the museum, participants who had used camera equipment turned out to have spent more time examining the artifacts than those who were just observing the exhibit with their own eyes.
“To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first extensive investigation examining how taking photos affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences,” wrote the paper’s authors, 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. “We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.”
However, there are a few instances where snapping shots did not pay off. That’s when bulky camera gear got in the way, such as during an arts and crafts project. Shutterbugs also became more uncomfortable during unpleasant experiences. Taking a photo during an intense experience—in this case, a virtual safari where a pride of lions attacked a water buffalo—did not lead to much pleasure, and reinforced an upsetting occasion.
So unless there’s glitter or a water buffalo attack involved, bring on the camera! Taking photos will add to your sense of contentment and gratification in many situations; don’t feel bad for pulling out your fancy lenses and capturing the moment for posterity.