Are you someone who thinks it's dumb to post photos of food to your social media accounts? Do you sneer at friends who do this a lot? Do you think, "man, is she basic! I would never be so basic. Food is for eating, not looking at, and Instagram is for jokes, not for earnest portrayals of your tasty life," or some similarly disapproving thing?
If you are that person, you might not want to read on, because science is now saying that you're wrong.
According to a study—aptly, if somewhat simply, titled "How Taking Photos Increases Enjoyment of Experiences"—that was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and appeared online this week, taking photos of food might very well make you enjoy eating it more.
Researchers Kristin Diehl, Gal Zauberman, and Alixandra Barasch placed nine sets of subjects (with 2,005 people participating overall) into different photo-worthy situations, such as touring a city in a double-decker bus, visiting a museum, or eating at a farmer's market. In each experiment, one group of participants was asked to snap shots of the experience, and one was asked not to.
To evaluate whether food photos, specifically, increased a diner's enjoyment of the meal, the researchers "recruited diners at the seating area of a historic farmers’ market food court during two Thursday afternoons." They explained:
[Participants were] randomly assigned to one of two conditions and given a sheet of paper with written instructions. In the photo condition, participants read, “While you eat your meal, please take at least three photos of your eating experience.” Everybody who took photos did so on their own device (camera or cell phone), giving them potential usage of these photos in the future. In the control condition, participants read, “Eat your meal as you normally would.”
That means that people in the control, or normal, group had the option of taking photos of their meal, and 15 people did. One person asked to take photos failed to do so.
The results showed that in general, people who take photos of their food—whether by instruction or choice—say they enjoy it more than their peers. The researchers wrote in their study that their results offer "evidence in a day-to-day setting that taking photos causes individuals to enjoy a mundane experience more than when they do not take photos," adding, "we also find evidence that photo-taking heightens engagement and that this engagement in the experience in turn heightens enjoyment."
As The Washington Post pointed out, previous studies have also suggested that the moments of anticipation gained by pausing to photograph food before eating it might make it taste better, as well. The researchers of the JPSP study had some thoughts as to why this might be the case, and they have nothing to do with the rush you get from an Instagram like:
Using eyetracking in a natural setting, we find that photo-taking directs attention to visual aspects that are most relevant to the experience (e.g., artifacts in a museum exhibit) rather than increasing attention to every aspect of the experience… Further, we show that it is the mental process people adopt while taking photos, rather than the photo-taking mechanics, that triggers greater engagement and thus increases enjoyment.
There's a caveat, of course: while the study suggests that taking photos can enhance a good passive experience (like sitting in front of your food), they can also worsen a negative one. This makes sense: as the authors noted, "photo-taking leads people to become more engaged with the experience," so they can make a lousy moment even lousier.
But it's safe to say that tweeting your brunch won't be a very negative experience. So snap away, amateur food photographers. It's good for you.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.