Digital detox be gone: how your iPhone could make you happy

Posted by
Harriet Hall

We’ve been told non-stop for what feels like an age that technology is damaging to our health and wellbeing – be it due to the distance it creates in social scenarios, the sleep we lose as a result of it or the reduction in our sexual activity it leads to.

But now, researchers at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business have discovered that – actually – not all technology is bad, and that our iPhones could even lead to increased happiness.

Popular theories suggest that the enjoyment and appreciation of life experiences is curtailed by the strong desire of smartphone users to take a picture for their Instagram account. On hearing this, the university set out to find out how true this theory was.

Researchers, led by Kristin Diehl, associate professor of marketing at the university, conducted nine experiments – three in the lab and three in the field. They set out to test people’s enjoyment of an experience with and without a camera. They found that, contrary to popular opinion, taking photographs actually increases people’s enjoyment of a particular event.

One experiment saw 200 participants head off on a bus tour of Philadelphia. One of the tours allowed cameras and encouraged the taking of photographs, the other forbade them. Those who had the cameras reported a higher enjoyment of the experience, and felt more engaged in it.


In the findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Diehl explains that when we take photographs we pay more attention to the subject in question:

“What we find is you actually look at the world slightly differently, because you’re looking for things you want to capture, that you may want to hang onto. That gets people more engaged in the experience, and they tend to enjoy it more.”

Diehl also explains that when we photograph something our attention is directed towards it more than if we weren’t.

Interestingly, this increased enjoyment was not only limited to visual experiences, but also extended to food. When the group was encouraged to take at least three photos of their meals, and researchers found that they became more immersed in the experience.

“If you want to take mental photos, that works the same way,” Diehl says. “Thinking about what you would want to photograph also gets you more engaged.”

There were two exceptions to the findings, though. The first, that photo-taking does damnpen one’s enjoyment when it interferes with the experience, and that using a Go-Pro does not have the same positive effect, because, says Diehl: “It’s when you actively decide what you what to take photos of that you get more engaged.”

We also suspect this does not apply to the taking of a selfie.

Images: Rex Features