Take a Holiday Photo for the Fam…Not the ‘Gram

New research from USC Marshall suggests that taking holiday shots and editing them to post on social media detracts from the enjoyment of the original experience

December 18, 2019

Go ahead and take all the photos you want this holiday season. But take them for yourself, not for your social media followers…or you’ll be losing some of that holiday cheer.

New research from the USC Marshall School of Business shows that while taking photos of experiences enhances our enjoyment of them, taking those shots with the intent to share with others diminishes the enjoyment.

“If we not only take photos, but immediately edit them to look their best, we are no longer engaged with the experience, we are engaged with our phones,” said Kristin Diehl, professor of marketing at Marshall.

People take photos in general because they want to remember something in the future, she said. And by taking a photo, people pay closer attention to the experience and how to best capture it, the team’s studies show. 

“There’s a lay belief that it’s a trade-off – you enjoy the moment or you take the photo. Our research shows it’s a little bit of both.”—Kristin Diehl, professor of marketing, USC Marshall

But if the motivation is to share photos on social media the outcome changes.

“Our phones enable all kinds of behaviors, some of which help us get more out of our experiences, and others that do not. Why? Because our phones can both facilitate and hinder engagement,” she said.

For example, in studies where the researchers allowed people to delete photos they had just taken, the photo takers reported being not as engaged with their experience, because their attention shifted away from the experience, said Diehl. 

Take the Shot!

Diehl and her co-researchers, Gal Zauberman and Alixandra Barasch, have studied photo taking extensively over several years and have published results in three academic journals.

Diehl says her interest in the topic began with a longstanding holiday dinner party she and her friends have gathered at since they were in high school in their hometown in Germany.

“I have always carried a camera and love to take photos of my experiences,” she says. “The popular wisdom is that taking photos of something diminishes your experience of it, and I’ve had this conversation at every dinner I go to, that no, actually it’s ok to take photos, just share them later.”

She says the data surprised even her team. “It’s hard to change people’s prior beliefs,” she said. “But when you get the data, it’s much more nuanced than simply ‘taking photos is bad.’ At first, we didn’t believe the results ourselves, but they were clear and repeated.”

“There’s a lay belief that it’s a trade-off – you enjoy the moment or you take the photo. Our research shows it’s a little bit of both.”

The Nuances

The team recruited people to take photos over the holidays. Some were told to take photos with the goal of creating an album for themselves, while others created an album to share with other people.

“What we learned the following January was that those who took photos to share with others enjoyed their holidays less than those who took photos for themselves,” said Diehl. 

In fact, the albums themselves were different. The to-be-shared albums included photos that were more staged. The private albums featured shots that were more impromptu, and less smiley.

“The initial intention of what to do with the photos after the holidays did not only diminish the actual holiday experience,” said Diehl, “it also changed what photos people kept.”

The takeaway? Take all the photos you want of the decorations and that laden dinner table, but with an eye for yourself. Edit them to share on social media later. 

Maybe an incentive to take down the holiday decorations before March?