Social media has created a world in which “likes” indicate value, destinations are assessed based on how “Instagrammable” they are (or aren’t), and the mark of a moment often equates to its worthiness of being shared with one’s “followers.” According to new research led by the NYU Stern School of Business, these attitudes toward social media—and the ways we exhibit them daily—can be proven to actually detract from the way we internalize and enjoy our experiences.
In a study titled “How the Intention to Share Can Undermine Enjoyment: Photo-Taking Goals and Evaluation of Experiences,” NYU researchers examined the effects of taking pictures with the intention to share them on social media. More specifically, the study investigated how an experience—or an individual’s interpretation of an experience—is impacted when the decision to take and share photos is a principal focus.
In five different studies conducted both at popular tourist sites and in controlled laboratory settings, participants were instructed to take photos under a variety of circumstances with a range of “photo-taking goals.” Some participants were questioned about their photo-taking intentions after snapping shots; others were assigned to take photos with either a “self-goal” (for their personal memories) or a “share-goal” (to post on social media).
Across these experiments, NYU researchers found that taking photos with the primary goal of sharing leads people to enjoy and engage with their experiences less. The study’s findings indicated a heightened attention to self-presentation and increased feelings of anxiety in participants who had a “share-goal.” Those same individuals were more likely to remember their experiences from a third-person perspective, suggesting that taking photos with the intention to share makes people consider how their experiences will be evaluated by observers, adding an element of self-consciousness to a situation before photo-sharing even occurs. Even more, those participants reported a lesser desire to repeat the experience or to recommend it to others.
The researchers did note that there can be benefits to engaging in sharing practices on social media. “Sharing behaviors can boost people’s pride and sense of meaning at later points,” Alixandra Barasch, researcher and coauthor of the study, said. “But we really focused on how the intention to share can affect individuals’ enjoyment during a given experience. What we found is that the effects of photo-taking can be beneficial or harmful depending on what your goal is at the time you actually take them.”
So what do these findings actually suggest? If nothing else, the study serves as a valid argument for limiting your social media usage—or at least deprioritizing it. Because in the age of social media, it’s important for us all to remind ourselves that “likes” shouldn’t be what’s motivating us to get out into the world.