Stanford researchers just figured out the cause of ‘Zoom fatigue’

Stanford researchers figured out what causes Zoom Fatigue.

Over the past year, video calls through platforms like Zoom have become a normal part of daily life for many people. Of course, that doesn’t make sitting through dozens of virtual meetings every week any easier. We can all agree that “Zoom fatigue” is a real problem.

Now, researchers from Stanford University may have figured out why. According to a study published last week in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior, the phenomenon is caused by four unique factors.

The researchers say the combination of excessive eye contact, looking at video of yourself, limited mobility from sitting at a desk, and spending more energy trying to pick up on social cues all contribute to the problem.

Zoom Drain

Hundreds of millions of video calls happen around the world every day. People are using them to stay connected with friends and family, meet with colleagues, and get their education. No one would argue that a Zoom session is a perfect replacement for an in-person meeting. It is better than nothing, however.

Stanford researcher Jeremy Bailenson, who founded the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), says, “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.”

Plenty of people would likely agree with that sentiment. It can be draining to log on for hours upon hours of Zoom meetings. Bailenson focused on four areas to explain why Zoom fatigue is such a problem.

The first area he highlights is the amount of up-close eye contact that occurs during virtual meetings. He says, “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.”

Another issue is that the “floating head” nature of Zoom calls makes the other person’s face appear too big. This simulates a lack of personal space, which can be stressful. To help address these issues, Bailenson recommends using videoconferencing tools in a smaller window rather than in full-screen mode.

Fatigue Concerns

Another issue with Zoom calls, Bailenson notes, is looking at yourself for extended periods of time. This is an unnatural experience that isn’t replicated anywhere else in our daily lives. To help mitigate the problem, he recommends turning off the self-view option after ensuring that you’re centered in the frame.

It’s common knowledge that being up and moving is good for you. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson says.

During a Zoom call, you need to sit still for an extended period of time. This is a more difficult problem to address—especially for meeting participants who can’t control the length. Still, Bailenson recommends that users take short breaks with their camera off so they can get up and walk around.

The final issue deals with the amount of brainpower it takes to decipher human emotions through a screen. Non-verbal communication is a crucial part of normal conversations. During a video call, it is much harder to pick up on those cues.

“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,” Bailenson says.

The same concept of taking a camera break can help with this. It is far less draining to listen to a person talk than trying to interpret their non-verbal communication.

Hopefully, the world will be able to start moving away from videoconferences in the coming months as the pandemic starts to subside. In the meantime, however, Bailenson’s tips are worth remembering for those who are feeling the effects of Zoom fatigue.


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