People take photos from different perspectives depending on why they take them. Photos from a first-person perspective capture the details of an experience, like watching a beautiful sunset. Pictures from a third-person perspective, either a selfie or a group shot by another person, capture the significance of an event, such as a reunion.

The perspective people use for photos affects how they and others feel about the pictures that result. Photos of life events have become such common behavior, and technology has evolved to enable us to easily take photos from either a first- or third-person perspective, co-author Lisa Libby told TheDoctor. “Our findings can help people use photography more effectively.”

Perspective may also determine how much viewers like the photo, and ultimately, how much they like the person who took it.

These findings also help disprove the belief that people post selfies to social media sites like Instagram just to promote themselves. “Photos with you in it can document the bigger meaning of a moment. It doesn’t have to be vanity,” said Libby, a professor of psychology at Ohio State.

The researchers analyzed data from six studies with more than 2,100 participants for their paper. In the first three studies, participants chose what photo perspective they would use (first- or third-person) in response to hypothetical scenarios. In studies four and five, participants chose whether the perspective of their actual photos accurately captured the goal of the photo when looking at the photos they posted to Instagram. In study six, people decided if they liked their photos more or less depending on how well the perspective matched their goal when taking the photos.

Study one confirmed the researchers’ original hypothesis that the more meaningful an event in peoples’ lives, the more likely they are to take third-person versus first-person photos. The results of studies two, three, four and five also confirmed this hypothesis. In study six, participants rated photos from a perspective (first- or third-person) that matched the goal of taking the photo (capturing an experience as viewed by the photographer versus the meaning of an event) more favorably than those whose perspective did not match the goal.

It was particularly interesting that people felt photos from different perspectives better captured the physical experience or bigger meaning of events in their lives, Zach Niese, lead author of the study, told TheDoctor. He was surprised to see that how much people liked their own photos depended on how closely the perspective of the photo matched the reason for taking it. “When people took photos from the perspective that best suited their goal, they liked the photos more,” Niese said.

One area for further study is how the perspective of a photo affects what people other than the photographer think about it. “We want to look at the effect perspective might have on others’ judgments of a photo and the person who took it,” said Niese, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Based on a photo’s perspective, viewers may make assumptions about a person’s goal for taking it. Perspective may also determine how much viewers like the photo, and ultimately, how much they like the person who took it.

The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.