Photography Makes Happier

Photographers are the happier people. So says an extensive study published by the American Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Take a picture, and you will enjoy everything more. “While you might think photo-taking would detract from the enjoyment of everyday activities,” the study says, “research (…) suggests that people who take photos of their experiences usually enjoy the events more than people who don’t.” So no more condemnation of food selfie porn! Those are the happier people!

Billions of photos taken each year can’t be wrong. A photo is more than just a photo. There’s a strong rewarding component. Photography also involves emotional gratification. And the growth in the number of photos taken each year is exponential. It has nearly tripled since 2010 and is projected to grow to 1.3 trillion by 2017.

Aforementioned study examines how photography affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences. The study shows that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
American Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Increasing engagement.

While some of us purists might think that stopping to take photographs would detract from the whole experience and make it less pleasurable, participants in the study who took photos reported being more engaged in the activity.

Photography not just as a way to document and preserve moments in time, but also as an engagement with the experience. As to, for example, the effect of photo-taking on the enjoyment of an eating experience, the study clearly finds that “taking photos had a significant effect on enjoyment.” So snap your food, and you’ll enjoy it more!

In one experiment, individuals were instructed to take a self-guided tour of a museum exhibit while wearing glasses that tracked their eye movements. The researchers found that those who took photos spent more time examining the artifacts in the exhibit than those who simply observed.

Interestingly, an instance where photo-taking did not appear to increase enjoyment was when taking photos interfered with the experience itself, such as having to handle bulky and unwieldy camera equipment. So there’s the argument for light gear and smartphones, enhancing photography’s ease of use and the overall experience, at least for the majority of test participants.

Also, photography can insulate from the experience — or even make an unpleasant experience even worse, the study finds. In one instance, participants went on a virtual safari and observed a pride of lions attacking a water buffalo, a sight most people found aversive. Photo-takers in that instance reported lower levels of enjoyment than those who saw the same encounter but did not take photos.

And the positive enjoyment effects of photography don’t just come by themselves. They require active participation. Cameras that record any moment of an experience without the individual’s active decision of what to capture are unlikely to have the same effect.

The study, based on nine experiments including 2,005 participants, concludes there is “consistent evidence that photo-taking heightens enjoyment of positive experiences in a variety of real-life situations”:

Relative to not taking photos, photo-taking can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences, and does so because photo-taking increases engagement.

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.

Sure there is a limit to snapping and pushing the camera into the faces of people. But overall conclusion suggests that appropriate everyday use of the camera makes you more aware, and thereby positively affects whatever you do.

Even snapping completely normal things that we usually ignore in day-to-day life can heighten the sense of happiness.

The complete study “How Taking Photos Increases Enjoyment of Experiences” by researchers Kristin Diehl, Gal Zauberman and Alixandra Barasch can be downloaded here.


    So Dan, this… “How Taking Photos Increases Enjoyment of Experiences” is probably the wrong title…?

    Maybe it makes for better headlines, but what the researchers seem to be suggesting is that emotional experiences can be intensified by taking time to photograph them while they are happening… So bad things seem worse and good things seem better.

    So following on with a completely illogical and trite comment…

    How long will it be before (like smoking) photography is banned by government? :)

    We can’t have people slacking or relaxing can we?

  • Or how about… “Photography Makes the World a Better Place.”

    Guess the keyword here is photography-induced “engagement,” leading to an enriched experience.

    Should be taxed, indeed!!