Feeling 'Zoom fatigue'? How videoconferencing may be affecting our sense of self

Researches at Stanford University have identified the underlying causes of the psychological effects associated with virtual meetings

Researches at Stanford University have identified the underlying causes of Zoom fatigue. Unsplash
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Feeling sapped after a long day of video calls? There may be a scientific reason as to why.

Researchers at Stanford University have confirmed that spending long stretches of time in a video call affects the way in which we see ourselves and interact with others. These psychological effects could be behind what's known as "Zoom fatigue", a term that found form early in 2020 as the pandemic took hold, forcing many to work remotely and rely on video calling services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The study showed that there are several ways in which videoconferencing could lead to feelings of exhaustion. For one thing, video calls force us to make extended eye contact as well as resort to non-verbal signals, such as nodding, which require more effort. Seeing ourselves in a little box also increases our self-evaluation tendencies, which may lead to negative perceptions of ourselves.

“Users are seeing reflections of themselves at a frequency and duration that hasn’t been seen before in the history of media — and likely the history of people,” Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, said in the study.

“Going from, on average, a handful of video conferences per week to, in some cases, nine or 10 a day, that’s a really new thing in media use history,” he said.

The fact your peers' faces are magnified on your laptop screen or monitor could also make you feel as if they are invading your personal space, the study suggested.

“We know from a physiological standpoint, that if somebody is really close up to you, and they’re looking at you, that you’re about to mate, or you’re about to fight, from an evolutionary standpoint,” Bailenson said.

The research also suggested some ways to minimise "Zoom fatigue", including minimising the self-view and shrinking the Zoom window so that other people seem smaller on screen. Turning the camera off whenever possible would also help alleviate some fatigue. It is also important to make sure you are comfortable at your work desk and that your chair is at the right height.