Are you tired of video conferencing? Research suggests that you are right to question its effectiveness

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In the years since the coronavirus pandemic occurred as almost every person on the planet communicates with each other, video conferencing has become a de facto tool for group collaboration within many organizations. The prevailing assumption is that technology that helps mimic face-to-face interactions via a video camera will be most effective in achieving the same results, but there is little data that could actually support this assumption.

A new study challenges this assumption and suggests that non-visual communication methods that better synchronize and amplify audio signals are actually more efficient.

Synchrony promotes collective intelligence

Researchers from the Tepper School of Carnegie Mellon of Tepper School and the Department of Communications at the University of California, Santa Barbara studied collective intelligence – the group’s ability to solve a wide range of problems – and how the synchronicity of nonverbal cues helps develop it. There are many forms of synchrony, but it is commonly believed that synchrony occurs when two or more nonverbal behaviors are aligned. Basically, conversation is what happens when at least two speakers alternately share their thoughts, and nonverbal cues are a way of determining when and how to turn.

Previous research has shown that synchronicity promotes collective intelligence because it improves joint problem solving. It is therefore not overly assumed that many would assume that if the conversation could not take place face to face, it would be best to simulate both video and audio software.

The researchers focused on two forms of synchrony: synchrony of facial expressions and prosodic synchrony. Synchronizing facial expressions is quite simple and involves the observed movement of facial features. Prosodic synchrony, on the other hand, records intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm of speech.

They hypothesized that during virtual collaboration, collective intelligence would develop through synchronization of facial expressions when collaborators had access to both audio and visual cues. Without visual cues, they predicted that prosodic synchronicity would allow groups to achieve collective intelligence instead.

Collective intelligence is achievable with or without video, but even more so without

“We found that video conferencing can actually reduce collective intelligence,” says Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Tepper School of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, who co-authored this paper. “That’s because it leads to an unequal contribution to the conversation and disrupts vocal synchronicity. Our study underscores the importance of audio signals that appear to be compromised by video access.”

Woolley and her colleagues assembled a large, diverse sample of 198 individuals and divided them into 99 pairs. Forty-nine of these couples formed the first group to be physically separated by audio capabilities but not video capabilities. The remaining 50 couples were also physically separated, but also had video and audio capabilities. During the 30-minute session, each duo completed six tasks designed to test collective intelligence. As Woolley points out, the results challenge the prevailing assumptions.

Video access groups have achieved some form of collective intelligence by synchronizing facial expressions, suggesting that when video is available, collaborators should be aware of these signs. However, the researchers found that prosodic synchrony improved collective intelligence whether or not the group had access to video technology and whether that synchrony was enhanced by equality in speech rotation. Most striking, however, is that access to video has dampened couples ’ability to achieve equality in speech turns, meaning that the use of video conferencing can actually limit prosodic synchronization and therefore interfere with collective intelligence.

In particular, groups regulate speech turns through a set of interaction rules, which include giving in, seeking, or maintaining turns. Collaborators often subtly convey these rules through nonverbal cues such as eye contact or vocal cues, such as changes in volume and speed. However, visual nonverbal cues seem to allow some associates to dominate the conversation.

In contrast, the study shows that when groups have only an audio hint, the lack of videos does not prevent them from communicating with these rules of interaction, but actually helps them smoothly regulate their conversation by engaging in equal exchange of turns and establishing improved prosodic synchronies.

What does this mean for organizations whose members are still physically separated by the COVID-19 pandemic? It might be worth disabling the video feature to promote better communication and social interaction during joint troubleshooting.

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More information:
Maria Tomprou et al. Speaking without announcement: how video conferencing reduces vocal synchronicity and collective intelligence, PLOS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0247655

Provided by Carnegie Mellon University

Citation: Are you tired of video conferencing? The research suggests that you rightly doubt its effectiveness (2021, March 25) downloaded March 25, 2021 from

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