Do cameras distract you from the moment? One study suggests the opposite is true

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Watching moments unfold though a viewfinder may seem like a narrow, distracted point of view, but a new study suggests otherwise. People who take photos of their experiences actually enjoy them more, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

The research, which involved over 2,000 participants, showed that in almost every instance, taking photographs heightened the overall enjoyment of the experience. Why? Researchers believe that taking photographs increases engagement. Participating instead of simply watching may seem like an obvious improvement, but earlier studies that were not centered on photography agree that engagement has a direct effect on enjoyment.

“To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first extensive investigation examining how taking photos affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences. We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement,” wrote the study’s authors: Kristin Diehl, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business; Gal Zauberman, a professor of marketing at the Yale School of Management at Yale University; and Alixandra Barasch, a doctoral student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (now an associate professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business).

In the study, participants were either instructed to take photos during an activity, or not to. At the end, each participant was asked about their level of enjoyment in a survey. The type of experience varied in several different sub-studies, but in almost every case, individuals that took photos reported higher levels of enjoyment.

One study, for example, used glasses to track eye movement while participants went on a self-guided tour of a museum. Those who took photos not only said they enjoyed the experience more, but also spent more time looking at each exhibit.

So when did the shutterbugs report a lower level of enjoyment? One experience involved watching a pride of lions attack a water buffalo on a safari. While most found the experience uncomfortable, those who took photos of the attack found it even less enjoyable. Participants that had to use bulky equipment that got in the way of the actual experience also reported a lower level of enjoyment, in some instances.

Shooting photos creates more involvement — and more enjoyment — than simply observing, the study concludes. But there may not even be a camera necessary; one branch of the experiment that asked participants to take a mental picture showed the same increased levels of enjoyment.

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