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Those Irritating People Taking Selfies? They Have More Fun Than You, Study Says

Taking more photos may increase your enjoyment of activities like going to museums and traveling, a recent study finds.

If you're the kind of person who likes to document every outing with gigabytes worth of photos — maybe even a selfie or two — you may actually be enjoying yourself more than other people, according to a recent study.

With the increase in camera-equipped cell phones, people around the world are taking more photos than ever. About 1.3 trillion photos will be snapped worldwide in 2017, according to the study. Facebook reports that users have been uploading 2 billion photos a day.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology with the unambiguous title, "How Taking Photos Increases Enjoyment of Experiences," was designed to show whether taking pictures made activities more enjoyable.

"Despite the prevalence of photo-taking in our lives, empirical research on how taking photos affects experiences is conspicuously missing," according to the study's authors, Kristin Diehl of the University of Southern California, Gal Zauberman of Yale and Alixandra Barasch of the University of Pennsylvania.

Based on their research they conclude, "On average, photo-taking can actually improve experiences, as long as it does not interfere too much."

Do you think taking pictures makes activities better? Let us know in the comments below.

Here's how the study worked: The authors conducted nine experiments, including several in which participants would take part in an activity, like going to a museum or taking a bus tour or simply eating lunch. Some participants were assigned to take pictures while others were told not to. After the activities were completed, the participants took part in surveys asking how much they enjoyed themselves.

In most cases, the people who took photos enjoyed the experiences more, mainly because it increased their engagement in what they were doing.

Art Markman, a professor of cognitive psychology at University of Texas at Austin, thinks the findings are intriguing.

"It’s one set of studies, and I’d love to see how this holds up," he said. "This idea that whenever we do something that increases our engagement with an activity, that it makes us feel more connected with that activity."


Photo Credit: Khánh Hmoong

In some ways, all of this is just common sense. People love taking photos when they're traveling or visiting the museum; that's why, presumably, you can always see tourists and visitors with their camera phones out.

But there's actually a heated debate over the issue. A large segment of the cognoscenti argue that our photo-taking habits are destroying genuine engagement with the world. 

  • Writing for Fox News, travel expert Mark Murphy wrote, "Whether it’s an amazing rainbow over Diamond Head in Hawaii or a museum that reminds you of the horrors that haunt our history, you’ll be free to take in everything around you if you leave your iPhone in your pocket."

The study indicates otherwise — with some caveats.

First, photo-taking that interferes with the actual experience itself can reduce someone's enjoyment. Snapping pictures while taking part in an activity that is engaging without taking photos doesn't make it any more enjoyable.

And taking photos of unpleasant activities make the photographer feel worse.

They argue that people may anticipate their future enjoyment of viewing the photos they're taking, thus boosting their present satisfaction. Most people, however, did not expect that this would be the case in a survey, and the authors point out that many marketers and managers do not believe this either, leading them to ban taking pictures in certain venues.

"Common sense dictates however that taking a photograph entails paying greater attention to what is going on in front of you, whether that is something you find positive or negative," Doug Nickel, a historian of art and photography at Brown University, said in response to the study. "Perhaps it is not photography, but engaged attention, that exaggerates our emotional response (or, more specifically, our memory to it)."

The authors found evidence that supports this suspicion.

"We find that taking photographs as part of an experience can actually focus attention on the experience," they write. "We also find through eye-tracking in a natural setting that photo-taking directs people’s attention to the specific aspects and moments of the experience they want to capture, rather than heightening engagement across all aspects of the experience."


These people know how to have fun. Photo Credit: Anders Lejczack via Flickr

Of course, how much you enjoy your experience isn't the end of the story. People need to consider how their behavior affects others.

Markman, the psychologist from University of Texas, argued as much. "I remember walking across the Millennium Bridge in London, and having to shove my way through people who were stopping smack in the middle of the bridge with a selfie stick, trying to get a picture of themselves and the Thames," he said.

"I understand the desire to have that picture, but there’s a thousand people trying to cross the bridge, and you’re disrupting other people’s vacation experience or daily life experience in order to get your picture," he continued. "There’s a little bit of etiquette that we need to add into the mix."

If what I do on a trip is take picture after picture after picture, without really engaging myself in the situation, I may actually reverse this effect

Markman also pointed out that we shouldn't conclude from this study that we need to take pictures to enjoy our vacations or trips. Anything that produces engagement, like buying a souvenir or having a conversation along the way with a close friend, may also do the trick.

Indeed, the authors of the paper found that even just taking mental pictures of experiences increased that participant's engagement and enjoyment.

"If what I do on a trip is take picture after picture after picture, without really engaging myself in the situation, I may actually reverse this effect," Markman noted.

Perhaps even more pertinently: Even if taking photos makes you enjoy your activities that much more, it doesn't mean your friends will have fun siting through your vacation slides.


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