Documenting life with a camera can be a conflicting experience. On one hand, photographs make incredible mementos. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for simply enjoying an experience technology-free.
However, if you’re among those with a photography obsession, new research suggests that you might be onto something.
A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that stopping to take a picture may enhance certain experiences, making them more enjoyable for the picture-taker.
During the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California and Yale University observed over 2,000 participants engaging in nine different activities, which included eating lunch, watching a Rihanna concert, taking a virtual bus tour, doing arts and crafts and walking through a museum.
For each experiment, researchers instructed half of the group to take pictures of their experience, while the other half was instructed to go about the experience sans camera. After each activity, the group completed a questionnaire that measured their levels of enjoyment and engagement.
In nearly all of the settings, the researchers found that participants who took pictures enjoyed their experiences more than those who did not take photos.
“One critical factor that has been shown to affect enjoyment is the extent to which people are engaged with the experience,” the authors wrote in the study, adding that photo-taking naturally draws people into an experience.
The study also showed that participants who took pictures were more attentive toward the subject of their photos.
During the museum experiment, for example, researchers gave participants eye-tracking glasses to track how long and how frequently participants looked at certain artifacts. The study found that those who took pictures were more fixated on the focal pieces of the museum exhibit.
Snapping the photo isn't the only element that enhanced experience. The researchers also found that even the act of planning to take a picture could increase enjoyment.
For example, when researchers asked participants in the virtual bus tour to simply think about what pictures they would have taken, they reported a higher sense of satisfaction.
So why do people who take pictures tend to enjoy their experiences more? According to the researchers, it's because they feel more engaged.
“Unlike traditional dual-task situations that divide attention, capturing experiences with photos actually focuses attention onto the experience, particularly on aspects of the experience worth capturing,” the authors wrote.
Before you break out your selfie stick, know that the researchers did identify some exceptions.
For instance, when participants were already engaged in an activity or when taking a picture interfered with the experience, their enjoyment was nearly equal to those who didn't take photos.
When the experience wasn’t enjoyable to begin with, taking a picture actually decreased the participants’ enjoyment of the experience.
The researchers also acknowledged gaps in the knowledge of how pictures affect our memory of an experience and how our individual beliefs about taking pictures affect our ability to get enjoyment through taking a picture.
But for now, keep snappin’ those sunsets -- you won’t regret it.