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Ever get off of a video call and feel like it wiped you out?
You’re not alone — as people around the world left offices last March and replaced in-person meetings with videoconferences from spare bedrooms and kitchens, they started noticing that videoconferencing made them feel tired.
The phenomenon was dubbed Zoom fatigue, after the popular videoconferencing software.
As the Covid pandemic enters its second year, with many people still working and attending school remotely, researchers from Stanford and other schools are starting to closely study how videoconferencing affects people on a psychological level.
There are four main ways that videoconferencing could contribute to feelings of exhaustion, wrote Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, in a paper published Wednesday:
Videoconferencing forces users to make extended eye contact
Nonverbal signals like nodding require more effort
The little box where users see themselves is unnatural
Users are forced to sit in one place.
“Going from, on average, a handful of video conferences per week to, in some cases, nine or 10 a day, that’s a really new thing in media use history,” Bailenson said.
The possible explanations aren’t specific to Zoom, and apply to other videoconferencing software, too, but the researchers used the Zoom brand name because it was recognizable and became a verb during the pandemic.
In Bailenson’s opinion, the biggest contributor to Zoom fatigue is the little box during a videoconference that allows users to see themselves. Lots of research has looked at what happens when people see themselves in the mirror, and suggests that constant self-evaluation leads to negative emotions.
Also, videoconferencing software often displays faces so large that it tricks your brain into thinking they’re directly in front of you, in your personal space. That can trigger some deep-seated instincts.
“We know from a physiological standpoint, that if somebody is really close up to you, and they’re looking at you, that you’re about to mate, or you’re about to fight, from an evolutionary standpoint,” Bailenson said.
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