Savoring 4.0 — Those Annoying Instagramming Foodies May Be Onto Something

The author’s foodie trophy shot was taken for purely “scientific” purposes at Fishy Fishy Restaurant, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland.

It seems “foodies” with smartphone cameras are infiltrating restaurants across the globe. As they snap away, documenting meals for posts to their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts, foodies can decrease the sense of flow, engagement, and joy experienced by other diners. The kicker is that at the same time they’re distracting us from our meals with their prolific photo taking, they are increasing their own happiness and enjoyment through the use of the positive psychology technique savoring.

Last year, a group of psychologists published a paper reporting how photo-taking affects people’s level of engagement and enjoyment of a broad range of experiences (e.g., bus tours, meals, museum visits).

Across nine studies with different paradigms, researchers Kristin Diehl and colleagues investigated evaluations of mundane experiences where photo-taking is socially acceptable and consistent with social norms. The main focus of the paper was contrasting photo-taking during an experience to not taking taking photos. Participants were assigned at random to a no photo condition (control group) or a photo condition where they could freely take as many photos as they wanted during their experience.

All studies reported individuals in the photo condition were significantly more immersed in the experience. Higher engagement, in turn, resulted in higher enjoyment, but with a catch: this applies only to positive experiences. The study suggests photo taking can worsen negative ones.

To clarify, their experience was limited to the taking of photos. The participants were not allowed to access them. So, the enjoyment of the experience reported does not involve the pictures. Nor does it involve the positive affect of reminiscing or “memory-building” that revisiting the photos might have provided.

I liken this study’s findings to coming across a song you like and turning up the volume so you can enjoy it more…savoring it just for just a moment. And then never listening to that song again.

Using the camera to focus on something, in this case, is like a volume dial. For better or for worse, increasing the volume intensifies your experience of the song. If you like the song, it increases your engagement and enjoyment of that good experience. But if the song is like nails on a chalkboard (I’ve provided what one looks like for younger readers) or if Justin Bieber ain’t your thang, amplifying the volume also increases your engagement and heightens all that you experience as negative.

So, what does this mean?….

Diehl’s findings build on the prior research of Fred Bryant:

“People may learn to plan and structure activities consciously in ways that maximize the intensity and duration of their enjoyment and that give them a sense of control over positive feelings.”

Here are some things to keep in mind about Diehl’s study:

  • The individuals in the study are directing their attention toward the experience with their cameras. As the researchers described, “While taking photos during an experience adds another activity, unlike traditional dual-task situations that divide attention, capturing experiences with photos actually focuses attention onto the experience.”
  • The primary task is photo-taking. Here it is not a distraction. In another instance where it is not the focal enjoyable experience, describes the researcher, “It can be seen as a secondary task that reduces engagement and enjoyment by forcing attentional shifts.”
  • Enhanced enjoyment and increased engagement through photo-taking took place during good passive experiences. The paper states that the occurrence is “less likely when the experience itself is already highly engaging, or when photo-taking interferes with the experience.” The experiences heightened during the study were mundane ones. Taking photos during peak experiences, such as during your “I do’s”, the birth of a child, or jumping out of an airplane may minimize your joy and engagement in that moment.

I would be interested in exploring if the increased engagement and enjoyment that happens during photo taking (or through the use of photo-sharing apps such as Instagram and Pinterest) might also transfer to non-visual experiences, such as listening to music. For example, does Shazam-ing a song or cranking up Bohemian Rhapsody have the same effect? (And how might we isolate that from the positive psychology affects of “anchoring” or “positive reminiscence”?)

I am also curious about exploring how taking photos during traumatic events, such the moments disasters unfold, might heighten our negative experience. During Hurricane Harvey — the costliest and worst natural disaster in American History — I documented the worst occurrences in my Houston neighborhood by taking photos and videos with an iPhone and then shared them across my social media accounts. So did my friends. Diehl’s research got me thinking: Did we add to the trauma by engaging more with it through photo taking or posting (and reposting) to Twitter or Facebook? And might it be better for the future handling of the human side of disasters if research enabled us to provide best practices for victims, first responders, and mental health professionals in the digital age?

Surely, during an period in history when it has become the norm to document our daily goings on, there are times when might it serve us better to go against the grain and not engage?

This, of course, does not apply to instances when you visit culinary Meccas. Confession: Upon going to Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, Ireland last month, long on this Texan’s foodie bucket list, I whipped out my phone and took a picture. (And it felt damned good.)

Granted, this is not something I recommend doing on your Tinder date or St. Valentine’s Day dinner. Or at funerals — unless you dislike the person immensely.


Boniwell, Ilona. (2006) Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: The Science of Happiness, 3rd Edition. Berkshire, England: Open University Press

Bryant, F. B. (1989). A four‐factor model of perceived control: Avoiding, coping, obtaining, and savoring. Journal of personality, 57(4), 773–797.

Diehl, Kristin, Gal Zauberman and Alixandra Barasch (2016), “How Taking Photos Increases the Enjoyment of Experiences,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 111, Issue 2 (Aug), p. 119–140.

Kurtz, Jaime L.(2008) Book reviews, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3:1, 83–86, DOI: 10.1080/17439760701794434.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. (2007) The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. United States of America: The Penguin Press

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