“Zoom fatigue. This is the term used by the Anglo-Saxons to speak of this intense weariness that you feel by dint of participating in virtual meetings. Evil is gradually seeping into our minds, pushing us to balk at the slightest invitation to Teams, Meet or even – for the oldest among us – Skype. Several American researchers in psychology have looked into the subject. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, of Virtual human interaction lab, Stanford University and his team have identified four dangers of heavy use of video. Here they are.
1. Seeing only faces and eyes can be harmful to your health
During “classic” meetings, participants can stretch their eyes: they can observe the elements of the decor of the room, the furniture, the presentation projected before their eyes – without focusing on the eyes of their partners. Everyone is watching everyone online – with no escape. And that’s not healthy. The one who listens is observed just like the one who speaks. All are constantly subject to the gaze of others.
This visual promiscuity can generate stress. Being this close to someone’s head is tantamount to telling our brain that they are in either a love or conflict situation. Consequence: he receives false signals and is overstimulated. Tip: Avoid two-person video conferences.
2. Seeing yourself over and over again degrades your self-esteem
“In the real world, if someone was constantly following you with a mirror, such that when you talk to people, make decisions, give your opinion, you see yourself in the mirror, that would be just crazy.”, explains the researcher in psychology. This “mirror effect”, in addition to not having its equivalent in real life, is harmful.
One of the consequent dangers would be a denigration of self-esteem. To identify this danger, Jeremy Bailenson draws on other research that studies people who look at themselves in a mirror all the time. A solution ? Remove feedback from own video during videoconferencing.
3. Stillness reduces your ability to think
Having a limited field of vision narrows your imagination. And it is tiring. But it’s not just that: the codes of decorum to be respected relentlessly also participate in this lasting wear and tear. The study therefore recommends using an external webcam, which opens onto a wider field of vision. As men and women think better when they move (cf. Aristotle), do not hesitate to move from your seat. (As this sentence is written, the whole START team forces themselves to take a tour of the floor.)
4. Not being able to analyze body language seriously disturbs your sociability
Usually, the understanding of a speech is supplemented by a bunch of non-verbal parameters: attitudes, gestures, movements, among others. Items that no longer exist online. We need to make more effort to compensate for this bodily lack. This creates an additional mental load because the processing of these signals is unconscious.
Researchers take an iconic example: A sideways glance during a live meeting doesn’t mean the same as a glance at Zoom to see if kids aren’t doing nonsense. Their advice? To afford “Audio breaks” only – which allows you to turn away from the screen for a moment to let your gaze wander, and therefore your mind.
Do you want to know if you have one of these ailments? The team of researchers created a scale called ZEF, to Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue to self-assess. In about fifteen questions, you will have a more objective view of your fatigue or emotional exhaustion. To take the test after your next virtual meeting, it’s happening here.