Taking Pictures Makes You Enjoy Experiences More, Says Science, So Ignore The Selfie-Shamers

There are a lot of people who will tell you that trying to photograph things means you're "not in the moment" and "not really experiencing life." Turns out those people are the ones missing out; according to a new study, people who take pictures enjoy an experience more than those who don't. So if you really want to suck the marrow out of life, turns out you should spend more time looking at the world through a camera lens.

From tourists pausing to pose for the camera on vacation to people snapping pictures of their food for Instagram at a restaurant, we have a tendency to judge people taking pictures as somehow shallow or missing the point. After all, the point is to have experiences, not to document them right? Well, surprisingly, science hasn't actually paid much attention to that question — until now. "[Photo taking] has gone unexamined by prior research even as it has become ubiquitous," researchers Kristin Diehl, Gal Zauberman, and Alixandra Barasch, write in a new study. “To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first extensive investigation examining how taking photos affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences.”

In order to look into the matter, the researchers conducted several different experiments involving over 2,000 participants. In each experiment, people were asked to participate in some activity, such as taking a bus tour, eating a meal, or visiting a museum; some people were instructed to take photos while others were told not to. Afterwards, participants completed a survey about the experience — and in some experiments, wore devices to track their eye movement. And, contrary to what you might expect, people who took photos consistently rated their enjoyment and engagement as higher and, based on eye movement, also paid more attention.

In other words, taking pictures doesn't make you removed from an experience or indicate that you're not having a good time; in fact, it means just the opposite.

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In a lot of ways, this does make sense, even if it goes against the prevailing wisdom on the topic. “One critical factor that has been shown to affect enjoyment is the extent to which people are engaged with the experience,” the authors write in the study. Taking pictures encourages people to pay attention — otherwise how are you going to figure out what to photograph?

And taking pictures also makes experiences that would otherwise be passive into something interactive. If you're on a bus tour, for instance, or strolling around a museum alone, or even just appreciating a scenic view, you're mostly just observing and probably don't feel involved in what's going on. But the act of taking pictures not only gives you something to do, but makes you part of things in a way. Figuring out how to document a space forges a connection and breaks down the sense of separation between you and it.

Plus, taking pictures can itself just be fun.

Interestingly, the researchers found that there are some circumstances in which taking pictures doesn't make everything better. For instance, if an experience was already unpleasant, taking pictures seems to only make things worse. And in another experiment, people who were asked to take pictures instead of participating in an art project had less fun than people who just observed — apparently being left out of an otherwise interactive experience is still even worse if you have to document other people having fun.

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But overall, it seems that our society-wide love of Instagram and sharing photos on social media probably isn't making us into people who don't know how to enjoy life or who only care about life as seen through a phone screen. In fact, it might be making us happier and more engaged with the world around us.

So the next time you see someone taking a selfie in public, the only reason you should resent them is because they're probably having more fun than you.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy (2)