Staring At Yourself During Video Chats May Put You in a Bad Mood, Study Finds

Is face fatigue getting you down?

1369568023

1369568023

Businesswoman discussing with colleagues during video conference. Male and female entrepreneurs attending online meeting. They are planning business strategy.

Photo by: Morsa Images

Morsa Images

If your work day has you hopping on and off video calls, you may find yourself feeling a bit cranky at the end of the day. Maybe you need a snack. Maybe a glass of water or a coffee as a pick-me-up before your next round of meetings. Or maybe you just need to turn off your camera because the thing that’s dampening your mood is looking at your face. Yikes.

With the increase of virtual meetings since the beginning of the pandemic, a new study has some interesting insights on the amount of time we spend looking at others through a computer screen and how to better protect our moods and mental health.

According to a recent study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, if you have to have virtual meetings you may want to turn off your camera because staring at yourself during video chats may just put you in a bad mood. And if you really want to be in a bad mood: Have a few drinks before your next Zoom meeting.

"We used eye-tracking technology to examine the relationship between mood, alcohol and attentional focus during virtual social interaction," says Talia Ariss, a doctoral candidate who led the research for this study. "We found that participants who spent more time looking at themselves during the conversation felt worse after the call, even after controlling for pre-interaction negative mood. And those who were under the influence of alcohol spent more time looking at themselves."

For the study researchers asked participants to answer questions about their emotional status before and after the online conversations. Participants were given topics to cover during their conversations: what they liked and disliked about their community and their musical preferences. For each call, participants could see themselves and their conversation partners on a split-screen. Some of the participants consumed alcohol before talking and others drank a nonalcoholic beverage.

What researchers found was there were significant differences in the amount of time individual participants spent looking at their image on the screen instead of the other person in the meeting. Think about the number of times you end up looking at yourself, fixing your hair, straightening your shirt, or noticing something in your background that should be fixed. It’s almost like you are distracting yourself.

"The cool thing about virtual social interactions, especially in platforms like Zoom, is that you can simulate the experience of looking in a mirror," Ariss said. This allows researchers to explore how self-focus influences a host of other factors, she said.

While drinking alcohol can help people be more social, that wasn’t the case when it came to video calls. Also probably not a good idea for work meetings either. "In the context of in-person social interactions, there is strong evidence that alcohol acts as a social lubricant among drinkers and has these mood-enhancing properties," Ariss said. "This did not hold true, however, in the online conversations, where alcohol consumption corresponded to more self-focus and had none of its typical mood-boosting effects."

During the pandemic, the use of video conferences like Zoom skyrocketed. "Users of the online video call platform Zoom increased 30-fold during the pandemic – burgeoning from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million by April 2020," the researchers wrote. "The pandemic has yielded a surge in levels of depression and anxiety and, given reports of heightened self-awareness and 'fatigue' during virtual exchange, some have posited a role for virtual interaction in exacerbating such trends."

So what should you do if video conferences have you feeling down? Beat the Zoom fatigue by not scheduling meetings back to back, going "off camera" a few times a day, make sure you are getting up to move, drink water, and have a snack, and when possible, change locations for meetings – even if that means taking your computer to another room in your home or another location.

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