In the first ever peer-reviewed study on Zoom fatigue, Stanford researchers expose the psychological consequences of being on video calls for hours a day.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, identifies four reasons why video conferencing is fatiguing to human beings.

Based on his findings, Bailenson suggests simple interface changes to decrease the symptoms of fatigue caused by video calls.

The intention of the study is not to demonize Zoom or other types of video conferencing. Bailenson admits they’re great tools, but suggests people rethink how they’re being used.

“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to.”

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What’s so fatiguing about Zoom and what can be done about it?

Here’s what the study says.

The 4 Causes of Zoom Fatigue

1. Excessive Eye Contact

Online video conferences lead to unnatural amounts of eye contact. Everyone is looking at everyone all the time, which is in contrast to a traditional meeting where there’s different things to focus on.

This is particularly unnatural for participants of the meeting who aren’t speaking, as they have a screen full of faces staring back at them as though they’re the speaker.

Therefore the experience is said to trigger the anxiety of public speaking even when a person is not actively speaking.

“Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population. When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

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The size and closeness of peoples’ faces during video calls can be fatiguing as well, but that depends on the equipment being used by the individual users.

Solution?

Bailenson recommends users do the following:

  • Take Zoom out of full-screen mode.
  • Reduce the size of the window relative to your monitor to minimize face size.
  • Use an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space between you and the screen.

2. Constantly Seeing Yourself

It’s unnatural to see oneself at all times when speaking to another person, but that’s what’s occurring during Zoom alls.

Zoom, and most video conferencing platforms, show a square of your camera feed at the bottom of the screen during a chat.

Bailenson compares that to being followed around with a mirror:

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that.”

Solution?

Bailenson recommends the following:

  • Platforms should change the default practice of broadcasting users’ feeds to both themselves and others.
  • Users should use the “hide self-view” button, which can be accessed by right-clicking your photo during a call.

Reduction of Mobility

Zoom calls unnaturally reduce peoples’ mobility by forcing them to stay within a field of view. Whereas people would be able to freely walk around and move during in-person and audio-only conversations.

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Bailenson points to research indicating that moving more correlates to better brain function:

“There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively.”

Solution?

Bailenson recommends the following:

  • Think more about the room you’re in and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility.
  • Placing an external camera farther away from the screen can allow you to pace and doodle like you may do in a traditional meeting.
  • Set a ground rule to turning video off periodically during meetings to give everyone a brief rest.

Higher Cognitive Load

Natural nonverbal cues, such as gestures and body language, are difficult to interpret during video calls which means the brain has to work harder to send and receive signals.

Bailenson points out how people now find themselves having to put a lot of thought into something that used to require no thinking at all.

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“You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”

Solution?

Bailenson recommends the following:

  • Give yourself an audio-only break during Zoom calls.
  • During audio-only breaks also face away from the screen so you’re not subjected to others’ exaggerated body language.

Are You Experiencing Zoom Fatigue?

Stanford has developed the Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale, or ZEF Scale, to help measure how much fatigue people are experiencing in the workplace from video conferencing.

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To find out whether you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue you can take the 15-question survey here.

Sources: Stanford.edu, Technology, Mind, and Behavior





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