Does taking photos during a museum experience increases museum enjoyment?

Taking photos when you are experiencing a museum does increase your enjoiment, but not in all circumstances: this is the conclusion that can be drawn from a couple of studies by professors Alixandra Barasch, Gal Zauberman and Kristin Diehl of Stern School of Business.

If you had the chance to visit a museum in recent years, you may have noticed that more and more visitors take photos while they are looking at the artifacts. Usually museum buffers say that taking photos distracts from the content. Those friends of mine which frequently visit museums and galleries tell that people “do not look at the real stuff but they are always looking at their smartphone screens”. However, I see that everyone takes photos and post them on Instagram. So what is the real effect of taking photos?

Museum managers now are worried whether to let people take photos during their experiences or to prohibit it. On one hand, some museums (and many Italian museums) prohibit taking pictures, on the other hand, other museums allow and even incentive people to take pictures and share them online. This is first of all a problem of care of the artworks, but it is also a policy of the museum.

My research

Some time ago I did a research on museum online reviews (Zanibellato, Rosin, Casarin 2017). We examined what are the most mentioned elements of a museum experience in online reviews. One frequently mentioned element was the possibility of taking photos (5.2% of a sample of TripAdvisor reviews). Interestingly, only the 40% of these mentions was positive: the 60% was about the frustration for the prohibition of taking photos. Surprisingly, those that blame the impossibility of taking photos did not give a lower rating than both those that mentioned the enjoyment of taking photos and the others. This result is clearer if we see it from the perspective of Barach and colleagues’ studies.

The studies are published respectively in a top journal of psychology (Barasch, Zauberman and Diehl, 2016) and consumer behavior (Barasch, Zauberman and Diehl, 2018) and their findings are generalized to all consumer experiences. However they use as empirical setting also a museum and a monument.

Pictures increase enjoyment

In the first research (Diehl, Zauberman and Barasch, 2016) the authors show that taking pictures increases the engagement and enjoyment. In one of their studies, they consider museum experiences. The authors asked participants to visit an archeological museum and to take (not to take) pictures during the visit. Participants were also asked to wear during the visit eye-tracking glasses, which recorded what the visitor was looking at. After the visit, they asked participants to fill a questionnaire comprising scales of engagement and enjoyment.

Results show that visitors taking photos enjoyed more the visit and were more engaged with the exhibition. With a mediation analysis they show that taking photos affects engagement and that engagement affects enjoyment. Results from the eye-tracking show that participants who took photos spent a larger proportion of their total fixation duration looking at artifacts compared to those not taking photos. Moreover they were looking more frequently at artifacts than those not taking photos. Enjoyment was also positively and significantly correlated both with the proportion of time participants spent fixating on the artifacts and the proportion of instances of fixation.

So far so good. Taking photos increases engagement and enjoyment. Yuppie! But why my research on online reviews found that people mentioning the possibility to take photos in a museum did not gave higher rating? Let’s look at the second paper of these authors

Taking pictures can decrease enjoyment

In the second paper (Barasch, Zauberman and Diehl, 2018) the authors are less optimistic with the fabulous effects of taking pictures. They basically show that if you take a picture to share it in a social media, you will enjoy less the experience. This because you are basically worried to look good in the post. In one of their studies the scientists went to a monument (Rocky statue, Philadelphia) and asked all people taking photos to fill a questionnaire. First of all they asked them whether they were taking that picture for themselves or to share it in a social platform. Then they asked other questions including their enjoyment. The results are very different from those of the previous study: those taking photos to share online experienced less enjoyment and were less engaged.

Basically this second research say to us that taking pictures during a (museum) experience increases self-presentational concern during the experience, which “can reduce enjoyment directly, as well as indirectly by lowering engagement with the experience”.

Further remarks

So should we ask people to take photos but not to share them online?

  1. Unexpected effects of taking pictures

In the research I was mentioning at the beginning (Zanibellato et al. 2017) we also noticed that 1.3% of visitors blame other people taking photos (“…The most annoying thing was the tourists – of all nations – whose only goal it seems is to get a photo of everything in the museum on their I-Phones, and will stop at nothing to achieve this goal.” (British museum)). In this case those reviews that mentioned “Too many photos” were significantly less satisfied than the others. Therefore allowing everyone to take pictures can have some side effects for other people…

2. What is the overall effect of pictures on eWOM?

For the research I am conducting at the moment, I collected all the TripAdvisor reviews of Italian art museums of 2017 written in English. I was curious to compare the rating of reviews having attached one or more pictures to those reviews not having attached pictures. Results suggest that reviews with pictures are more positive than those without pictures (M_not_pic = 4.43, M_pic = 4,57, F statistic = 33.08, p-value = <0.001). I also tested the basic hypothesis that reviews with images are also more “liked” than those without reviews. Surprisingly, I found that this relationship is not statistically significant (M_not_pic = 0.21, M_pic = 0.24, F statistic = 3.2858, p-value = 0.69). I then separated reviews written via smartphone and those written with other devices. It resulted that, once, controlled for device origine, reviews with images were found to be more useful. Looking at interaction I notice that, for those reviews done via smartphone, the presence of images does not increase utility, but for those reviews done with other device (basically desktop computer) images had a significant effect.



Diehl, Kristin, Gal Zauberman, and Alixandra Barasch. “How taking photos increases enjoyment of experiences.” Journal of personality and social psychology 111.2 (2016): 119.

Barasch, Alixandra, Gal Zauberman, and Kristin Diehl. “How the Intention to Share Can Undermine Enjoyment: Photo-Taking Goals and Evaluation of Experiences.” Journal of Consumer Research (2017).

Zanibellato, F., U. Rosin, F. Casarin, 2017, “eWOM for Museum Experiences: An Analysis of Online Museum Reviews” Paper presented to AIMAC 2017 conference, Beijing. (second round review on International Journal of Arts Management)



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