Taking photos to share on social media reduces enjoyment of experiences

Taking photographs can enhance the enjoyment of an experience when it increases one’s engagement but the act can dampen pleasure when it separates a person from what is going on, according to a study conducted by experts in psychology at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Relative to taking pictures to preserve one’s memories for oneself, snapping photos with the intention to share them with others on social media reduces enjoyment of experiences.

New research from New York University Stern School of Business Professor Alixandra Barasch finds that taking photos with the intention to share them on social media diminishes people’s enjoyment of their experiences by increasing anxiety or self-presentational concern.

The paper, co-authored by Gal Zauberman of Yale University and Kristin Diehl of the University of Southern California, is titled “How the Intention to Share Can Undermine Enjoyment: Photo-taking Goals and Evaluation of Experiences,” and is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Across five experiments, the researchers assessed participants who took photos at famous tourist sites, while on holiday, and during a unique virtual experience.

In all of the cases, participants had the intention of sharing their photos with others. Their findings included:

  • When people take photos to share, they enjoy the experience less and are less likely to recommend the experience to a friend.
  • When creating an album to share on social media, people are more likely to choose photos of themselves, posed (vs. candid) photos, and smiling shots.
  • Taking photos to share with others increases feelings of anxiety to present oneself in a positive light.

“Experiences are vital to well-being, and understanding the factors that affect enjoyment of experiences is important to both consumers seeking happiness and companies creating and marketing such experiences,” says Professor Barasch. “Our work identifies a frequent misstep among businesses — encouraging consumers to take photos to share during experiences.”

Professor Barasch continued, “We offer strategies to promote consumer photo-taking while avoiding the negative effects of anxiety.  For instance, businesses should encourage consumers to take photos to preserve their own memories rather than to share on social media.  Another strategy is to activate the sharing goal after the experience is over rather than during the experience.”

You can read the study online or examine this abstract:

Experiences are vital to the lives and well-being of people; hence, understanding the factors that amplify or dampen enjoyment of experiences is important. One such factor is photo-taking, which has gone unexamined by prior research even as it has become ubiquitous. We identify engagement as a relevant process that influences whether photo-taking will increase or decrease enjoyment.

Across 3 field and 6 lab experiments, we find that taking photos enhances enjoyment of positive experiences across a range of contexts and methodologies. This occurs when photo-taking increases engagement with the experience, which is less likely when the experience itself is already highly engaging, or when photo-taking interferes with the experience.

As further evidence of an engagement-based process, we show that photo-taking directs greater visual attention to aspects of the experience one may want to photograph. Lastly, we also find that this greater engagement due to photo-taking results in worse evaluations of negative experiences.


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