Stanford researchers identify four key causes of "Zoom fatigue" and how to fix them

Shawn Knight

Posts: 13,073   +130
Staff member
In brief: As millions of people discovered during 2020, working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The isolation and lack of human connection is real and as Stanford researchers have identified, video chat platforms aren’t a perfect alternative.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, recently looked into the psychological impact of prolonged video chats and identified four key elements that can lead to what is commonly referred to as Zoom fatigue.

  • Excessive amounts of eye contact increase stress.

In a normal meeting, not everyone is locking eyes with the speaker at all times. A few will be, sure, but some might be taking notes, checking their phones or even staring off into space. On a video call, everyone is looking at everyone else, all the time. Even if you aren’t the speaker, people are constantly watching you, and that can be a stressful experience.

What’s more, depending on the size of your screen, a person’s face can appear too large for comfort, which could simulate the experience of someone being very close to you.

  • Seeing yourself during video chats is fatiguing.

In the real world, visuals are a one-way street. That is, you only see the people or person you are talking to. Most video chatting platforms, however, also show what you look like to others via your camera, and that is unnatural.

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy,” Bailenson said. Constantly seeing yourself is taxing and stressful, he concluded.

  • Video chat reduces natural mobility.

With a normal phone call or even during an in-person meeting, it’s not unusual for people to move around a lot. Conversely, during a video call, you’re normally dealing with a fixed camera and a set field of view, meaning there isn’t much room to shift around and again, this is very unnatural. When people are moving, they perform better cognitively, research shows.

  • Cognitive loads are much higher in video chats.

When speaking to someone face-to-face, non-verbal cues like expressions and gestures happen all the time and can play a big role in how the conversation goes. As is the case with text-based chat, however, lots of context can be lost in video chat.

“If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up” he said. This adds cognitive load and uses up more “mental calories,” which can leave you feeling even more drained after a prolonged sessions.

Bailenson also provided suggestions that both regular users and organizations can implement to decrease Zoom fatigue. For example, he recommends taking video calls out of full-screen mode to minimize face size, using the “hide self-view” button and giving yourself an “audio break” occasionally “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but “socially meaningless.”

Image credit fizkes, okcm

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hypertotoro

Posts: 17   +50
So don't use video chats and you'll be fine. I don't use them and I can't even understand all those problems. Less traffic too, less energy consumption in the world. And most of the times there is nothing to show in the video steam except for your own face. I don't want to see other peoples' faces, and I don't know why would anyone want to see mine. Except for relatives. And those who use video chats and then complain how hard it is are just being silly.
 

Ludak021

Posts: 411   +286
Why do I not suffer any of these anxieties? Am I on the path to becoming a serial killer?

Do you have Police enforcing "stay at home" like in Italy and some other countries, or is your country like USA, nothing is really enforced and it's merely a suggestion unless you are a business owner?
 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 3,918   +2,986
So don't use video chats and you'll be fine. I don't use them and I can't even understand all those problems. Less traffic too, less energy consumption in the world. And most of the times there is nothing to show in the video steam except for your own face. I don't want to see other peoples' faces, and I don't know why would anyone want to see mine. Except for relatives. And those who use video chats and then complain how hard it is are just being silly.
Well, some of us have no choice... I’m a Grade 4 teacher and my kids are all online... so my option is Zoom or Google Meet (Zoom is VASTLY superior).

I make sure there are lots of breaks, don’t enforce leaving cameras on, and we do fine... still would be better to teach in person though!
 

Mister_K

Posts: 2,055   +745
When you use a lot of stock footage you start seeing it a lot. The guy in centre frame I've used before haha.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 387   +662
There's situations in which I don't think it really can be helped for example, school.

But to me, "zoom fatigue" cannot be acknowledged without also acknowledging that most office employees were already pretty stressed and fatigued from regular meetings.

I am sure most of the companies that were able to more easily adapt to remote work had more healthy time management without unnecessary meetings all the time and the ones who report zoom fatigue probably want to use this chance to push for reopening so they don't have to mistreat employees remotely and they can do so in person instead.
 

Wrinkle

Posts: 40   +33
So don't use video chats and you'll be fine. I don't use them and I can't even understand all those problems. Less traffic too, less energy consumption in the world. And most of the times there is nothing to show in the video steam except for your own face. I don't want to see other peoples' faces, and I don't know why would anyone want to see mine. Except for relatives. And those who use video chats and then complain how hard it is are just being silly.

Totally not an option for a lot of people. At this point I couldn't imagine doing my job without Teams meetings. Phone calls are usually fine but seeing colleagues or customers reactions when talking can be very important.
Old school conference calls are just plain irritating because there's always an issue with initiative.

I don't find videoconferencing stressful but it's certainly more tiring than meeting people face to face.