By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer of Science & Technology
Enjoy living in the moment, and put your smartphone or camera down! That’s the scientific conclusion and everyday advice stemming from a study by a group of researchers involving Washington University in St. Louis.
Robyn LeBoeuf is professor of marketing at Olin Business School and co-author of this revealing study involving more than five different surveys with 718 combined participants.
“When people take pictures of experiences that are otherwise highly enjoyable, we find that taking pictures of those experiences makes people enjoy the experiences a bit less,” said LeBoeuf.
LeBoeuf is one of three researchers on the study team led by the University of Denver. The study is titled “How and When Taking Pictures Undermines the Enjoyment of Experiences.” The snapshot finding: if the event is otherwise highly enjoyable, pausing to take photographs will detract from a person’s engagement and enjoyment, potentially affecting the businesses visited.
Many study participants were given the task of snapping shots during imagery-related experiences, including a documentary considered highly enjoyable.
“We had one group just watch it. We said to imagine this is a nature tour that you’re doing or a video experience you are having. Watch it and simply just take it in. Then we asked another group to watch it with the same instructions, but we also asked them to take any pictures you would like to take and do that by clicking a button,” LeBoeuf explained. “We found the people asked to take pictures ended up enjoying it less than the people who hadn’t been asked.”
LeBoeuf said the results of the study will surprise people based on one of the surveys conducted by the research team.
“People often think either it doesn’t matter or it makes things better. We’re finding that it makes it worse.”
Making it worse for many experiences that range from birthday parties, weddings, school performances, athletic competitions, concerts, restaurants, vacations, tourist attractions, nature trips, etc. LeBoeuf said the findings apply to taking pictures and videos during experiences people find highly enjoyable.
“Anytime people are stepping out of the moment to document the moment, I would say these findings would apply,” she said.
What about taking selfies? LeBoeuf said too much focus on yourself and moments around you slip by.
“You’re trying to line yourself up in the picture and it’s even a more distracting action than just simply taking a picture,” she said.
The study is about the act of taking the pictures or videos. It doesn’t even get into the time and focus involved in posting them on social media from the location during the event or experience.
From a marketing standpoint, the study offers new insight into why some businesses may want to create a new plan of action.
“If they find out that people are taking too many pictures and it’s undermining their enjoyment, that might reduce people’s tendency to spread positive word of mouth about the experience, to share their experience in different ways. So there might be things that firms can do,” she said. “Maybe interventions to get people to put down their cameras for a few minutes and maybe stop and enjoy the moment more; and that might help the firms with their bottom line.”
LeBoeuf wants to make one point clear: having some photos and videos from many moments of life are valuable.
“I’m glad that I have pictures of, say, my son’s first birthday party. But perhaps taking those pictures made me enjoy it less in the moment,” LeBoeuf said.
In these cases, she advises assigning the snapping of pictures to someone less invested in the situation.