A recent academic article written by Stanford communication professor Jeremy Bailenson, argues that Zoom fatigue is real and that there are four possible explanations for why. Although Zoom was the focus of the article, these theories can be applied to all video conferencing software.
These are the main causes of Zoom fatigue, according to Bailenson’s article:
Close-up eye contact is highly intense, physiologically draining
In the real world, if someone was speaking to you while only standing a few inches away from your face, this would probably make you feel intimidated or uncomfortable. Our brains naturally interpret a situation like this as intense or dangerous.
According to the study, most people only sit about 5 inches away from their computer webcams during Zoom calls. So, when speaking to a group on Zoom, with several virtual faces close to yours, it causes us to be in a hyper-aroused state that leads to exhaustion.
Seeing yourself on video causes depression, lowers self-esteem
Bailenson’s article references a 1988 study that found that when people view videos of themselves, these videos cause feelings of self-doubt and depression. These negative feelings were higher in women, according to the study.
The 1988 study, and other studies like it, only showed participants videos of themselves for one hour or less. Currently, there is no data on what seeing videos of ourselves for several hours does to our psyche.
Reduced mobility leads to tiredness
During real-world interactions, people communicate with their hands, get up and walk around, move their arms, legs, etc. These movements increase creativity, productivity and energy. Most natural movements are almost completely eliminated when speaking on Zoom calls.
Increased communication leads to cognitive overload
Communicating virtually requires more work than communicating face-to-face. According to the study, people speak about 15% louder when interacting virtually. Essentially, getting your point across takes more effort on Zoom than it would in real life.
Interpreting others’ body language in a virtual setting also requires more work than in face-to-face interactions. You might think, did someone just shake their head because they disagreed with me, or were they speaking to someone else off-camera? But it is tough to know either way when not being face-to-face with them.
Zoom and other video conferencing software are not going away anytime soon, so what are the remedies to these problems? According to Bailenson, these are the best solutions:
- To avoid feelings of intense eye contact, take Zoom out of the full screen and minimize the window. Also, increase personal space between yourself and your computer screen.
- To prevent negative emotions while viewing videos of yourself, turn off your camera or use the “hide self-view” button.
- To increase mobility, change up your desk set-up to allow for more movement.
- To decrease cognitive overload, turn off your camera and communicate by audio only.