Researchers from Stanford identify four causes of “zoom zoom” and their simple repairs

Although more people are signing up to popular video chat platforms to connect with colleagues, family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford researchers have a warning for you: These video calls are likely to bother you.

Prompted by the recent boom in videoconferencing, communications professor Jeremy Bailenson, director of the founding of the Stanford Laboratory for Virtual Human Interaction (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours a day on these platforms. Just like “googling” is something like any web search, the term “zoom” has become a ubiquitous and generic verb that replaces video conferencing. Virtual meetings have skyrocketed, with hundreds of millions every day, as protocols of social distancing have physically separated people.

In the first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs zoom zoom from a psychological perspective, published in a journal Technology, mind and behavior On February 23, Bailenson separated the media and assessed Zoom on individual technical aspects. He identified four consequences of a lengthy video chat that he says contribute to a feeling known as “Zoom Zoom”.

Bailenson stressed that his goal is not to slander any particular video conferencing platform – he regularly appreciates and uses tools like Zoom – but to point out that current implementations of video conferencing technologies are exhausting and to suggest interface changes, many of which are easy to implement. . Moreover, it offers suggestions for consumers and organizations on how to use current video conferencing features to reduce fatigue.

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

Below are four basic reasons why video chat tires people, according to the study. Readers can also fill out a questionnaire to see where they land on the Zoom and Exhaustion Scale (ZEF).

Four reasons why

1) Excessive amount of close eye contact is very intense.

Both the amount of eye contact with which we engage in video chat, as well as the size of the faces on the screens are unnatural.

In a normal meeting, people will look at the speaker differently, take notes, or look elsewhere. But on Zoom’s calls, everyone is constantly watching everyone. The listener is treated non-verbally as a speaker, and even if you do not speak once in a meeting, you still look at the faces staring at you. The amount of eye contact is dramatically increased. “Social anxiety of public appearance is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everyone is staring at you, it’s a stressful experience.”

Another source of stress is that, depending on the size of your monitor and whether you use an external monitor, faces on video conferencing calls may look too large for comfort. “Generally, for most settings, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with colleagues or even strangers in the video, you see their face in a size that simulates the personal space you usually experience when you’re close to someone,” Bailenson said.

When someone’s face is so close to ours in real life, our brain interprets it as an intense situation that will either lead to mating or conflict. “What actually happens when you use Zoom for many, many hours is in this hyper-excited state,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends removing Zoom from the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to reduce face size, and using an external keyboard to increase personal space between yourself and the network.

2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real time is tedious.

Most video platforms show the square of your appearance on the camera during a conversation. But that is unnatural, Bailenson said. “In the real world, if someone was constantly following you in the mirror – so while talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback and getting feedback – you would see yourself in the mirror, that would be just crazy. No, someone could take that into account, ”he added.

Bailenson cited studies that show that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Many of us see each other every day in video chats for many hours. “It’s taxing us. It’s stressful. And there’s a lot of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences if you see yourself in the mirror.”

Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change their default practice of switching videos to themselves and others when they need to be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use the “hide self-view” button, which they can access by right-clicking on their own photo, once they see that their face is properly framed in the video.

3) Video chat dramatically reduces our normal mobility.

Personal and audio telephone conversations allow people to walk and move. But with video conferencing, most cameras have a field of view set up, which means a person has to stay mostly in the same place. Movement is restricted in ways that are not natural. “There is now more and more research that says that people, when they move, work better cognitively,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Bailenson encourages people to think more about the room where they do video conferencing, where the camera is set up, and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther from the screen will allow you to walk and draw in virtual meetings just like we do in real meetings. And of course, occasionally turning off someone’s video during meetings is a good basic rule for groups, just to take a short nonverbal break.

4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us gesticulates and subconsciously makes and interprets nonverbal cues. But in video chats, we have to work harder on sending and receiving signals.

In fact, Bailenson said, people took one of the most natural things in the world – a personal conversation – and turned it into something that involves a lot of thinking: “You have to make sure your head is framed inside the center of the video. If you want to show someone you agree with it, you have to nod your head excessively or raise your thumbs. It adds cognitive load while using mental calories to communicate. “

Gestures could also mean different things in the context of a video meeting. A cross-sectional view of someone during a face-to-face meeting means something quite different from that of an online video chat network looking outside of their child who has just entered their home office.

Solution: During the long parts of the meetings, take a break for just the sound. “This is not simply turning off the camera to take a break from the need to be non-verbally active, but also distracting the body from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that you are not suffocated for a few minutes by gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

Many organizations – including schools, large companies and government agencies – have approached Stanford communications researchers to better understand how to create best practices for their specific video conferencing set-up and how to reach institutional guidelines. Bailenson – along with Jeff Hancock, director of founding the Stanford Social Media Laboratory; Géraldine Fauville, a former postdoctoral researcher at VHIL; Mufan Luo; a graduate student at Stanford; and Anna Queiroz, a postdoc at VHIL – responded by devising the Zum Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale or ZEF Scale, to help measure how much fatigue people experience in the workplace from video conferencing.

The scale, described in detail in a recent, as yet unreviewed paper published on the SSRN preprint website, advances research on how to measure fatigue from interpersonal technology, as well as what causes fatigue. The scale is a 15-item questionnaire that is available and has now been tested in five separate studies over the past year with over 500 participants. Asks questions about general, physical, social, emotional, and motivational fatigue. Examples of questions include:

  • How exhausted do you feel after video conferencing?
  • How irritated are your eyes after video conferencing?
  • How prone are you to avoiding social situations after video conferencing?
  • How emotionally drained do you feel after video conferencing?
  • How often do you feel too tired to do other things after video conferencing?

    Hancock said the results of the scale can help change the technology so stressors are reduced.

    He notes that people have already been here. “When we first had the elevators, we didn’t know if we should stare at each other or not in that space. More recently, driving has raised questions about whether or not you’re talking to the driver or need to get in the back seat or front passenger seat,” Hancock explained. . “We had to develop ways to make it work for us. We are now in that era with video conferencing, and understanding the mechanisms will help us understand the optimal way to work in different environments, different organizations, and different types of meetings.”

    “We hope that our work will help uncover the roots of this problem and help people adjust their videoconferencing practices to mitigate the‘ zoom zoom ’,” added Fauville, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “This could also inform video conferencing platform designers to challenge and reconsider some of the paradigms made in video conferencing.”


    If you are interested in measuring your own fatigue, you can fill out a survey here and participate in a research project.

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