By Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist
Picture the scene; you’ve just got back from a special holiday where you spent time enjoying yourself and soaking up every moment. You also took a lot of photographs. You captured beautiful sites and spectacular sunsets and you even managed to take a few photos of yourself that actually liked. So should you share your photos on social media?
To answer this question we will start by looking at what the benefits of sharing might be, and also whether there are any downsides to sharing that we might need to consider. To help with these questions, I interviewed Dr Pam Rutledge, Media Psychologist and Director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in the USA.
The benefits of sharing travel photos
We’ve written a lot at the Travel Psychologist about how travel can help with our well-being. Taking photographs can be one important way of documenting our experiences, how we felt when we were away, any new insights we gained and what we learned. Having a digital keepsake of all of these positives can be helpful to maximise the benefits of our trip.
According to Dr Pamela “Sharing photos can be a form of mindfulness—it focuses attention on an image or event and increases appreciation and savouring—both positive emotions. Photos are multisensory experiences, unlike text, thus trigger sensory memories along with cognitive ones, allowing us to re-experience aspects of an adventure.
Photos that have added meaning, such as evidence of having undertaking something that seems difficult, like traveling where you can’t read the language, can reinforce the sense of accomplishment, and enhance self-confidence and self-esteem.
Sharing experiences with others can make them more meaningful through viewer responses of appreciation. Viewers may also point out things that the traveller didn’t notice or fully realize and increase the appreciation of the experience”
Taking photographs can allows us to be more appreciative, which is important as appreciation of experiences is related to better well-being and increased satisfaction with life (Alder & Fagley, 2005). Sharing photos with others can become a ritual for appreciation; we may spend time choosing our favourite photos to share. We may think carefully about the words we choose alongside pictures of moments that felt special to us.
A recent research study found that older people who share photos on social media felt this helped with self-acceptance and maintaining relationships with others (Pera et al., 2020). When interviewed participants explained sharing in itself was meaningful to them, and whether they received likes or interaction was less important. They also felt that sharing could reflect their purpose in life and contribute to their personal growth.
The potential downsides of sharing
So taking and sharing photographs has some potential benefits. But what about the downsides?
When sharing photos, we may worry that other people may think they are showing off or that they might react negatively. We may also feel that we can appreciate our trip without having to share this with others.
According to Dr Pamela “Sharing can also be selfishly motivated, such as when people share to make themselves feel special or important. This is usually a sign of insecurity and takes away from the pleasure of travel by keeping the sharer focused on how others respond, not to what they are experiencing. This limits the potential for personal growth.”
As Pamela explained, becoming overly focused on capturing images for sharing purposes can be detrimental to our enjoyment of our trip. We have all seen people on holiday spending a lot of time posing for photographs and whilst this is not unhelpful in itself, it has the potential to get in the way of enjoying the trip.
So should I share my photos on social media?
According to Dr Pamela “With all media behaviours, it’s important to understand your motivations, intentions and how it makes you feel.
If sharing photos takes you mentally out of the travel experience and makes you preoccupied with how others respond or if you’re focused on monetizing your experience to the exclusion of all else, then it’s time to step back.
However, joy and authenticity is evident in all art – travel photos included. People are much more likely to want to travel with you virtually if you are emotionally engaged in the travel rather than yourself. If you have doubts, keep a journal recording your thoughts and feelings accompanying the images sharing.”
I’d also add to Pamela’s thoughts that if you start to become overly focused on likes or the reactions of others, then this is another red flag to look out for.
Remember that who you follow can also have a big impact on your photo sharing behaviour, so try to follow accounts where you feel a connection to the person, or where the accounts are interesting or educational in some way.
Following accounts that are very focused on self promotion and portraying a idealised image of life and are not balanced can skew our perception of what is normal and realistic. They can also lead us to us becoming overly focused on ‘likes’ and validation from others.
Alternatively if we follow people who seem to have realistic travel experiences, appear to appreciate these, tell you about their learning and growth, then these accounts are more likely to be helpful and realistic. They can help you to appreciate the experiences you had, and to only need to share when you really want to.
Adler, Mitchel G., and Nancy S. Fagley. “Appreciation: Individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well‐being.” Journal of personality 73.1 (2005): 79-114.
Pera, R., Quinton, S., & Baima, G. (2020). I am who I am: Sharing photos on social media by older consumers and its influence on subjective well‐being. Psychology & Marketing, 37(6), 782-795.