Main Course

Why Taking Photos of Your Food Might Make You Enjoy It More

Foodie shutterbugs rejoice! USC Associate Professor of Marketing Kristin Diehl may have just discovered the best defense for the next time someone snickers at your food photography obsession.

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Evidence that Rico just can't doughnuts off his mind.

As Rico and Brendan both know from covering the food scene for several years now, there’s been an explosion of folks obsessively photographing their meals. The general consensus is this is a bad thing for society. But there’s a recent study out of the University of Southern California’s Marhsall School of Business, which suggests photographing your meal might be good for you… but there are caveats.

This week, Rico spoke to USC Associate Professor of Marketing Kristin Diehl. She’s one of the folks behind the study. They met up, appropriately, at California Donuts in L.A., which Food and Wine says makes some of the most Instagrammed food in America.

Below, Kristin explains her study and tells us why you might want to hold off posting your food photos to social media.

Interview Highlights

How did Kristin and her co-author go about performing their study?

Kristin Diehl: So, generally, we’re interested in what photography does to people’s experiences. We’re looking at people when they take photos versus when they don’t take photos, and how do they enjoy their experiences. We created different either scenarios or actual experiences for people. We sent them on a bus tour, or we intercepted them in a farmers’ market.

We approached people who were having lunch in a farmers’ market similar to Grand Central in L.A., but it was Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. We gave them a short description that we are interested in people’s experiences, and half of the people had a little bit added onto it and were told we’re interested in people’s experiences, but since people take a lot of photos, we would like you to take some photos of your lunch. And, after the fact, we gave them a short questionnaire.

What did they discover that was so surprising?

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Kristin photographs her donut selection now, so that she can enjoy it later.

What we find, consistently, is that people who take photos tend to enjoy their experience more, and that’s probably surprising to you, and it was surprising to us.

I have to say that we didn’t look at social interactions. Some of the diners were alone, some of the diners were with other people. It was about their experience, not about the other person’s experience. So, we were really focused on: what does it do to you as the experiencer? What we find is that it does get people more into the experience.

One of the really nice studies that we have is that we had people go through a museum with eye-tracking goggles, and so, we could actually see what people look at. And what we find is that, when people have a camera, they tend to look longer and more frequently at the things they’re going to photograph, which, in a museum, tend to be the artifacts.

In the restaurant, we don’t have their photos, but that’s what we assume, yes. They had their own cameras, and we don’t know what they took photos of.

The study doesn’t suggest that posting pictures of food on social media will add to your enjoyment.

So, we don’t speak at all to posting and, in fact, if posting means I’m taking a photo and right now am uploading it as you’re eating, we don’t think that would help [make people enjoy the experience more].

We have one study, which I think conceptually is similar, where we tell people they can also delete photos. And we show that when you do something like that, which basically breaks the experience, then you don’t have the benefits of greater enjoyment.

We should’ve titled this article so that people would understand it better, like, “Take Pictures Now, Instagram Later.”

  • Sophi Zimmerman

    Brendan and Rico, your complaints about photographing food are soooo lame. I often photograph my culinary creations and post them to facebook. I usually include my recipe so that my friends can recreate them with a guide as to how the dish should look.