Associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business Kristin Diehl reiterates what most of us have heard a thousand times: "You hear that you shouldn't take all these photos and interrupt the experience, and it's bad for you, and we're not living in the present moment."
Undertaking a series of nine experiments, Diehl and her team wanted to see if people's joy changed in the presence of a camera. They wanted to know if the person who takes thousands of photos on his or her European vacation enjoys the trip any more or less than a person who took two photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and called it a day.
With the results published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study aimed to explain whether people find more joy from taking photos during an experience or less. "What we find is you actually look at the world slightly differently, because you're looking for things you want to capture, that you may want to hang onto," said Diehl.
One of the experiments used sightseeing as an example to see how people enjoyed themselves with or without cameras. Two hundred participants took a double-decker bus tour of Philadelphia. One group was given digital cameras and told to take photos (both tours forbade the use of cell phones), while the other tour was not given any means to take a photo. The study showed that the sightseers who took photos enjoyed their experience significantly more than those who did not.
Taking photos of your food before a meal offers the same enjoyment, according to the study. One experiment requested participants to take at least three photos during their lunch. This resulted in a more engaging and satisfying meal, while the other group who was not told to take photos reported enjoying themselves less. The study deduced that the mere planning to take a photograph brought participants joy.
"People look longer at things they want to photograph," Diehl said, noting that the study found that taking photos focuses attention and heightens pleasure. She even said it works for more educational situations, such as an archaeological museum where people in the study reported enjoyment of the exhibitions more when provided with eye-tracking glasses and instructions to take photos.
Diehl explained that the act of planning to take a photograph was important to experiencing joy. She said, "Thinking about what you would want to photograph... gets you more engaged." Thus, technology like a GoPro would not have the same positive effect, since there is no active decision making, according to Diehl.
Interestingly enough, according to the study, this increased engagement due to photo-taking can lead to a worse evaluation from participants who had a negative experience. So, basically, if the concert was already unpleasant, the act of taking photos during it would only make you feel worse about the whole thing.