Psychology of Travel: Does taking photos add or detract from the experience?
A new study looks at how taking photos affects enjoyment of an experience.
There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the value of taking photos on vacation. I’m married to someone who strongly believes that photos unequivocally enhance his enjoyment of our travels. His explanation in twofold: The camera lens encourages his eyes and mind to focus on the beauty or interest of a particular site or destination. In addition, viewing the photographs afterwards brings those memories alive again—for example, where we were, what we were doing, whom we were with.
Conversely, some travelers feel strongly that a “focus” on capturing an image interferes with the here and now—and is actually a distraction that diminishes the pleasures of travel. Although I don’t agree completely, I can understand that point of view, too. As a travel writer, I am often frustrated trying to juggle my pad, pencil and camera while staying involved. (I’m so fortunate that Jerry picks up the slack and does a solid job with great photography.)
An interesting study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports on nine experiments with more than 2000 participants that looked at how taking photos affects an individual’s enjoyment of an activity. Three of the experiments took place in the field (one involved people on a bus tour); the other six were conducted in a laboratory setting.
“To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first extensive investigation examining how taking photos affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences,” write Kristin Diehl, PhD, of the University of Southern California; Gal Zauberman, PhD, of Yale University; and Alixandra Barasch, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.
The study authors’ conclusions were summarized in a press release from the American Psychological Association (APA):
“We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.”
However, the authors identify certain instances when taking pictures can detract from the experience:
- In one experiment comparing people actively involved in an arts and crafts project to a group of observers, the researchers found that increased enjoyment was limited to those who were observers (not the participants). Although this particular experiment wasn’t focused on travelers, per se, one might infer that taking photos during common hands-on traveler activities, like a cooking class, might interfere with enjoyment.
- The researchers found that having to handle cumbersome camera equipment can also decrease enjoyment of the activity. We are firm believers in the “small is beautiful” brand of photography even if we have to make some sacrifices in terms of quality. We use cell phone cameras (which are constantly improving) and quality point and shoot cameras.
Given that the use of cell phone cameras has become so ubiquitous (and often controversial), the study and its conclusions are quite timely. The researchers write:
While taking photos during an experience adds another activity, 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. As a result, photo-taking leads people to become more engaged with the experience.
You can read this interesting study in its entirety. The full text of the article is online, available from the APA Public Affairs Office.
Do you ever question whether you take too many pictures or that photography might be interfering with your enjoyment of travel?