Sorry, Adele: Taking photos at concerts enhances experience, study says

Are we taking too many pictures of concerts and vacations, and not enjoying the moment enough? New research actually suggests we enjoy those experiences more when we take time to snap photos.

Taking time to snap concert, vacation photos helps us engage with experiences, according to research

Adele recently admonished a fan for filming a concert rather than enjoying the live show. But a new study suggests taking pictures actually does help us enjoy an experience. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Although Adele might not be a fan, a new study suggests taking photos at a concert might help us enjoy the experience more.

The pop superstar made headlines recently when she admonished a fan for videotaping a concert — encouraging her to put away the recording device and enjoy the live experience.

"I'm really here in real life," she said to a fan apparently using a tripod-mounted video camera at a May 29 concert in Verona, Italy — a moment captured by another fan on video. 

"You can enjoy it in real life rather than through your camera."

That clip has been viewed millions of times, and it highlights a relatively new dilemma we face in the smartphone era — are we taking too many pictures and not enjoying the moment enough?

The new study by a team of researchers from the University of Southern California, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, published in the June 6 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, actually says taking time to snap photos of experiences like concerts and vacations helps us enjoy those experiences more.

Photographers enjoyed bus trip, museum more

Over the course of nine experiments, researchers measured 2,000 participants' enjoyment of their experiences, both with and without a camera on hand.

For example, participants were asked to take a bus tour, or eat in a food court, and either take photos or not. Afterward, they were surveyed on both their enjoyment and engagement in the experience.

And in almost every case, people who took photographs reported higher levels of enjoyment, according to the American Psychological Association's report on the study.

While some think stopping for photos removes us from an experience, new research suggests it can actually help us engage. (Charles Contant/CBC)
There was more tangible evidence to back up the connection between photography and engagement as well. In one experiment, participants took a self-guided tour of a museum exhibit while wearing glasses that tracked their eye movements.

Those who took photos spent more time engaging with artifacts in the exhibit than those who didn't, the researchers found.

Intention is key to enjoyment

That doesn't surprise Patricia Rockman, who is director of education and clinical services at Toronto's Centre for Mindfulness Studies. The study's findings reflect the new reality of our digital world, she said.

Patricia Rockman says engagement and intention are key to making photography part of enjoying an experience. (Centre for Mindfulness Studies)
"We're very tied to technology. In fact, we can't escape it," she said.

"It's becoming integral to our experience, so then it becomes too difficult to separate direct experience from that which is tied to technology, because technology also is using the senses."

And she said our senses are in high gear on vacation or at a show.

"Something like a concert really engages the senses, obviously — particularly of hearing and sight. So the use of a recording device or taking pictures, one might immediately think is going to be distancing, but I think it's really dependent upon the intention one is bringing to the activity."

Intention is the key, according to Rockman, and enjoyment will hinge on how you're engaging with whatever you're looking at. That's a notion backed up by the new research.

For instance, if you are carefully framing a picture of someone like Adele while she's singing, or a beautiful moment in nature on a vacation, you're intending to engage with what you're looking at. 

Carefully framing a picture helps us engage with what we're looking at, according to new research. (iStock)
But if you're just grabbing your phone without thinking, Rockman said, your enjoyment will likely be diminished.

"Are you so gripped by having to take a picture, or be on your phone, that you don't have any choice about when to use it [or] when not to use it? That it invokes, say, so much anxiety or discomfort when you don't have it or aren't using it? I would say this is too much."

Photography can be a hindrance

And there were cases where the researchers behind the new study found photography was a hindrance.

For example, participants engaged in an arts and crafts project didn't find the experience more enjoyable when they photographed it.

And the researchers also found that enjoyment was not enhanced when the photo-taking process interfered too much with the experience — when participants had to handle unwieldy camera equipment, for example.

Which means Adele just might have been right about the fan using the tripod-mounted camera after all.


Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.