Four causes of “zoom fatigue” and their solutions

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Even as more people are tapping into popular video chat platforms to connect with colleagues, family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford researchers have a warning for you: These calls video probably tire you out.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson examined the psychological consequences of spending hours a day on Zoom and other popular video chat platforms. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Driven by the recent boom in video conferencing, communication professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours a day on these platforms. Just as “Googling” is like any search on the web, the term “Zoom” has become ubiquitous and a generic verb to replace video conferencing. Virtual meetings have exploded, with hundreds of millions of people performing daily, as social distancing protocols have physically separated people.

In the first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, published in the journal Technology, mind and behavior on February 23, Bailenson took the stand apart and evaluated Zoom on its individual technical aspects. He has identified four consequences of prolonged video conversations that he believes contribute to the feeling commonly known as “zoom fatigue”.

Bailenson pointed out that his goal is not to vilify any particular video conferencing platform – he appreciates and regularly uses tools like Zoom – but to point out how exhausting current implementations of video conferencing technologies are and to suggest solutions. interface changes, many of which are simple to implement. Additionally, it provides suggestions to consumers and organizations on how to take advantage of current video conferencing functionality to reduce fatigue.

“Video conferencing is good for distance communication, but just think of the support – just because you can using video doesn’t mean you have to, ”Bailenson said.

Here are four main reasons why video chats tire humans, according to the study. Readers are also invited to participate in a research study aimed at developing a Zoom Exhaustion and fatigue scale (ZEF) Scale.

Four reasons why

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

The number of eye contacts we have in video chats, as well as the sizes of faces on screens, are unnatural.

In a normal meeting, people will be watching the speaker, taking notes, or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. A listener is treated non-verbally like a speaker, so even if you don’t speak once in a meeting, you still look at faces that are staring at you. The amount of eye contact is greatly increased. “Social anxiety from public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exist in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re on your feet and everyone is looking at you, it’s a stressful experience. “

Another source of stress is that, depending on the size of your monitor and if you are using an external monitor, faces during video conference calls may appear too big for comfort. “In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you see their faces at a size that simulates a space. personal that you normally meet when you’re with someone intimately, ”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 happens, in effect, when you use Zoom for many hours, is that you are in this hyper-excited state,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Until platforms change interfaces, Bailenson recommends removing Zoom from the full screen option and reducing the size of the zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size and use a external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble. between oneself and the grid.

2) Seeing each other during video chats continuously in real time is tiring.

Most video platforms show a square of what you look like on camera when chatting. But that’s not natural, Bailenson said. “In the real world, if someone was constantly following you with a mirror – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, receiving feedback – you saw yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever think about it, ”he added.

Bailenson cited studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Many of us now see each other on video chats for several hours each day. “It’s taxed for us. It’s stressful. And a lot of research shows that there are negative emotional consequences of seeing yourself in a mirror.

Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change the default practice of delivering video to both yourself and others, when it should only be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use the “hide auto-view” button, which can be accessed by right-clicking on their own photo, once they see their face is properly framed in the video.

3) Video chats drastically reduce our usual mobility.

In-person and audio telephone conversations allow humans to move and move. But with video conferencing, most cameras have a defined field of view, which means that a person usually has to stay in one place. Movement is limited in a way that is unnatural. “More and more research now indicates that when people move, they function cognitively better,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Bailenson recommends that people think more about the room they’re videoconferencing in, where the camera is located, and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera further away from the screen will allow you to rhythm and doodle in virtual meetings like we do in real meetings. And of course, turning off your video periodically during meetings is a good rule of thumb for groups to set, just to give yourself a brief non-verbal rest.

4) Cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interactions, non-verbal communication is quite natural, and each of us naturally makes and interprets non-verbal gestures and cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.

Indeed, Bailenson said, humans have taken one of the most natural things in the world – a face-to-face conversation – and turned it into something that involves a lot of thought: “You have to make sure your head is framed. in the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you agree with them, you have to nod or give a thumbs up. It adds a cognitive load because you are using mental calories to communicate.

Gestures can mean different things in a video conference setting as well. A sidelong glance at someone in an in-person meeting means something very different from a person on a video chat grid looking offscreen at their child who has just walked into their home office.

Solution: During long periods of meetings, give yourself an “audio-only” break. “It’s not just about turning off your camera to take a break from being non-verbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that for a few minutes you won’t be. not stifled by gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.

ZEF scale

Many organizations – including schools, large corporations, and government entities – reached out to communications researchers at Stanford to better understand how to create best practices for their particular video conferencing setup and how to develop institutional guidelines. Bailenson – with Jeff Hancock, Founding Director of the Stanford Social Media Lab; Géraldine Fauville, former postdoctoral researcher at VHIL; Mufan Luo; graduate student at Stanford; and Anna Queiroz, postdoc at VHIL – responded by designing the Zoom Exhaustion and fatigue scale, or the ZEF scale, to help measure the fatigue that people experience in the workplace following a video conference.

The scale, detailed in a recent study, not yet peer reviewed published article on the SSRN preprint website, advances research on how to measure fatigue from interpersonal technology, as well as the causes of fatigue. The scale is a 15-item questionnaire, which is available for free and has now been tested in five separate studies over the past year with over 500 participants. It asks about general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue, and motivational fatigue of a person. Here are some sample questions:

  • How exhausted do you feel after the video conference?
  • How irritated are your eyes after a video conference?
  • How much do you tend to avoid social situations after video conferencing?
  • How emotionally drained do you feel after a video conference?
  • How often do you feel too tired to do anything else after the video conference?

Hancock said the scale’s findings may help change technology to reduce stressors.

He notes that humans have been here before. “When we first had elevators, we weren’t sure whether or not we should look at each other in that space. More recently, carpooling has raised questions about whether or not you talk to the driver, or whether you should sit in the back seat or the passenger seat, ”Hancock explained. “We had to develop ways to make it work for us. We are now in this era with video conferencing, and understanding the mechanics will help us understand the optimal way to do things for different contexts, different organizations and different types of meetings.

“I hope our work will help uncover the roots of this problem and help people adapt their video conferencing practices to alleviate ‘zoom fatigue’,” added Fauville, who is now an assistant professor at Gothenburg University. in Sweden. “It could also inform the designers of video conferencing platforms to question and rethink some of the paradigms on which video conferencing has been built. “

If you want to measure your own Zoom fatigue, you can take the survey here and participate in the research project.


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