New study unveils physical and mental toll of Zoom calls

After 50 minutes of video conferencing, study find that significant changes occur in the brain and the heart

Researchers suggest video conferencing only as a substitute to face-to-face meetings, not a total replacement. Unsplash / Surface
Powered by automated translation

Video calls via Zoom or Microsoft Teams effectively replaced face-to-face interactions during the early days of the pandemic, and many companies have not looked back since.

The term “zoom fatigue” has been created as a result, which refers to a unique kind of exhaustion after being on video calls for extended periods of time.

It turns out the term is more than just a mere feeling. A study that was published in the journal Scientific Reports in October, conducted an experiment scanning the brain and heart activities of 35 students attending a lecture at Graz University of Technology in Austria.

With electrodes attached to their heads and chest, half of the students attended the 50-minute lecture via video conference, while the rest went in-person. Researchers used electroencephalogram (EEG) and electrocardiogram (ECG) instruments to record electrical activity in the students' brains, as well as their heart rhythms.

The researchers looked for hints of mental fatigue, including brain waves, reduced heart rate and signs that the nervous system was overworking to combat exhaustion.

The results revealed that video conferencing caused higher levels of fatigue, and the participants' brains were struggling to remain attentive. They also felt drowsy and “fed up” in comparison to in-person students, who reported feeling happier and more active during the lecture.

Rene Riedl, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and a co-author of the study, says they found “that with 50 minutes of videoconferencing, significant changes in physiological and subjective fatigue could be observed”.

“Based on our research results, we recommend a break after 30 minutes,” he adds, as quoted by science news outlet IEEE Spectrum. The researchers also suggested that video conferencing “should be considered as a possible complement to face-to-face interaction, but not as a substitute”.

“Our results suggest that use of videoconferencing may lead to cognitive costs, which must not be ignored by individuals and organisations,” said the researchers.

They also claimed their study is the first to provide neurophysiological evidence regarding “zoom fatigue”, as previous studies only relied on self-reporting by participants in the form of questionnaires.

They also suggested further studies should be conducted to determine “effective countermeasures to reduce the fatigue and stress potential of videoconferencing”, especially in an increasingly digital world.

Updated: November 26, 2023, 10:44 AM