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How the intention to share photos can undermine enjoyment

Though people both take and share more photos than ever before, we know very little about how different reasons for taking photos impact people’s actual experiences. For instance, when touring a city, some people take photos to share with others (e.g., to post on Facebook), while others take photos for themselves (e.g., to remember an experience later on). Will those who take photos to share enjoy the experience more or less than those who take photos for themselves? How do people’s goals for taking photos impact their enjoyment of photographed experiences?

In 12 studies with over 2,800 participants, results show that in fact those who take photos to share with others, compared to those who take photos for themselves, enjoy the photographed experiences less.

In one study, tourists lined up to take a photo at the famous Rocky statue in Philadelphia were asked whether these photos were intended for themselves or to share. Then, after they took the photo, they were asked how much they enjoyed the experience. Based on their answers in conjunction with other studies it was found that those who take photos to share enjoy the experience less, and are less likely to recommend the experience to a friend, compared to those who take photos for themselves.

Similar effects were found when people were asked to take photos during their Christmas celebrations. Participants were tasked to take photos on 25 December for a photo album that was either just for themselves or to share on social media platforms, such as Facebook. Interestingly, the albums created for sharing differed from those created for personal usage. Albums created for sharing featured more photos where people were posed (as opposed to candid) and where people were smiling, suggesting that they wanted to present a positive impression to the viewers of the album. In addition, with shared albums, people were more likely to include photos that included items typical of the holiday (e.g., Christmas trees, stockings, etc.), suggesting that they felt the need to provide details about the context for those who were not there. Further, those that were told to take photos to share enjoyed the photo-taking experience less than those who took photos for themselves.

Why would the reasons for taking photos affect one’s enjoyment of the experience?

But why is that the case? Why would the reasons for taking photos affect one’s enjoyment of the experience? Findings suggest that this occurs because taking photos to share increases photographers’ concerns about how others will judge their photos. This intent to share with others increases feelings of anxiety to present oneself in a positive light, which in turn reduces enjoyment during the experience. In addition, these negative feelings extend to people’s interest in participating in similar future experiences, such that taking photos to share actually decreases their desire to repeat that experience again.

This is even the case when the person taking the photo is not personally in the photo, such as when sharing a photo of a sunset or, in the previous study, a Christmas tree. Some people experienced these negative effects of intending to share worse than others. Those who are high in self-consciousness (those who are highly concerned how they appear to others and what others think about them) show stronger effects; that is, when they take photos to share, they enjoy experience less not just compared to taking photos for themselves but also compared to those who do not worry so much about what others think of them.

Does it matter who sees the photos? It was investigated whether the audience with whom one shares matters. We reasoned that intending to share one’s photos with a broad group of acquaintances (e.g., all friends on Facebook) would reduce enjoyment, but taking photos to share only with close friends or for one’s own personal album would make the experience itself significantly more enjoyable. Indeed, that was the case, participants taking photos to share with people they did not know very well and who do not them well, led to feelings of anxiety and also reduced how engaged they felt in the experience. They worried about what others thought and hence were less present in their own experience, causing them to enjoy the experience less.

Moreover, our work also identifies a potential misstep among businesses — encouraging consumers to take photos to share during experiences may be counterproductive. For instance, many restaurants and hotels incorporate hashtags throughout their experiences to encourage consumers to take photos for sharing on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Such salient reminders might have unintended costs if they reduce the enjoyment people feel during the experience itself, with potentially harmful effects on remembered enjoyment. Moreover, these negative effects on consumers’ experiences may reduce their propensity to repeat experiences or recommend them to others.

Our experiences are vital to our well-being, and understanding what affects our enjoyment of experiences is important both to people seeking happiness and to companies creating and marketing such experiences. Experiences are also widely shared with others, not only through written and verbal communication, but increasingly through photos. More and more, photos are taken as experience unfold, and hundreds of millions of these photos are shared every day through social media and other channels. While consumers may enjoy sharing these photos later on, and find value in receiving “likes” and “comments” when they do, they may want to consider how taking photos to share can undermine their own enjoyment during the actual experience itself.

Image credit: “Leaf” by Maria Shanina. Public Domain via Unsplash.

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