Feeling exhausted after video chats? There is a reason for that

TORONTO – The influx of virtual meetings may not be the only factor causing “zoom fatigue” for potentially millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The very design of video conferencing applications could be taking you down, too, according to a group of American researchers.

Technology like Zoom, which went from 10 million users to more than 300 million in a matter of months last year, imposes physical restrictions on users, requires more cognitive work, can amount to an “all-day mirror” and forces All of us to look at each other

The combined physiological effects of those factors can be exhausting, said researchers at Stanford University in California, who launched a new study online to measure Zoom’s fatigue.

“The Zoom interface design constantly conveys faces to everyone, regardless of who is speaking,” writes Jeremy N. Bailenson, a professor of communications at Stanford University, in a new article published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior.

“From a perceptual point of view, Zoom effectively transforms listeners into speakers and drowns everyone out.”


In a typical setting, people don’t look into each other’s eyes for that long. Think of an elevator or an Uber ride. We have developed social norms that make it okay to look away for an extended period of time.

In a meeting setting, people tend to use eye contact sparingly, said Jeff Hancock, founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab.

“The conversation is really like a gaze dance,” he told CTVNews.ca via Zoom on Wednesday. People often make eye contact, acknowledge the connection, look away, and return at different intervals, in part because being looked at causes physiological arousal and awakens the nervous system.


Video conferencing applications also require a higher “cognitive load”, which means that users send and receive more signals than in normal environments, including the need to frame themselves in the camera, consider voice volume and offer more physical reactions such as nod your head. a speaker.

While they may require more physical considerations, Zoom meetings also require less of us physically and can feel restricted, the researchers said. There is no room to walk, water cooler breaks, or other movements that research shows can improve meeting performance. Instead, we get caught up in the viewing frustum, the specific space in which the webcam frames the user.

Perhaps one of the biggest stresses for some users of video conferencing applications is what the Stanford researchers called a kind of “all-day mirror.” The default setting in video apps like Zoom is to show the user a view from their own camera. Seeing yourself can have positive results, Hancock said, pointing to a study in which researchers placed a mirror in front of a bowl of candy and found that people drank more candy when there was no mirror.

“Sometimes remembering who we are and what we are trying to be, a good human being, can be valuable. But over time, if we constantly look in the mirror, that can lead to questions like ‘I don’t look the way I want to’, ‘I’m not who I want to be’. It reminds us that we are not that ideal version, ”Hancock said.


There are some built-in strategies that video conferencing users can use to reduce the impact of Zoom fatigue, the researchers said, such as the “Hide self-view” button to avoid the “mirror all day” effect. The researchers also recommend using an external webcam and keyboard to allow more space from the screen and to vary the seating arrangement. They also suggest making use of the audio-only feature in apps, or just picking up the phone when video isn’t needed.

“Phone calls have boosted productivity and social connection for many decades, and only a minority of calls require staring into another person’s face to communicate successfully,” wrote Bailenson.

As part of the new online study, the Bailenson and Hancock team have developed a new framework for measuring Zoom fatigue in the hopes of being able to determine whether any of these strategies improve user reporting of Zoom fatigue.


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