Some people are more sensitive to webcams than others, study finds

National/World

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The “constant mirror” effect of Zoom calls and other virtual meetings has some people saying they’re over it – but not everyone, according to a new study from Washington State University.

Kristine Kuhn, an associate professor at WSU’s Carson College of Business, said she hated when everything went online back in the spring of 2020. She missed the ability to catch someone’s eye in a conference room and felt virtual meetings were more cognitively taxing.

So, she began to explore why these video calls were so difficult and uncomfortable for some people. 

In the summer and fall of 2020, she performed two studies. One was on a group of employees from various occupations who had transitioned to remote work. The other was on junior and senior business students at WSU who had gone from in-person learning to virtual classes. 

The study participants reported how they felt about their virtual experiences and they each described their level of public self-consciousness.  

What Kuhn’s data shows is that people’s opinions of virtual meetings depended on how high or low their public self-consciousness was. 

For people who are very self-conscious, seeing themselves frequently in these meetings made them dislike the meetings more. People who weren’t as self-conscious in public didn’t mind the meetings as much. 

Kuhn said this research could help explain why some people are affected by “Zoom fatigue.” 

“I think specifically with self-view, it just suggests that some people are more sensitive to it than others,” she said. 

While this might provide a partial explanation for Zoom fatigue, Kuhn said there are many other factors that could be affecting people, such as the general longing for an in-person environment. 

She said the study results indicate that managers and teachers should be careful when establishing universal rules for webcam use. Requiring people to use their camera could be making the experience more unpleasant for them. 

“Recognize that it might not be a one-size-fits-all solution, depending on the purpose of the meeting, depending on how well you all know each other, depending on how many people are participating. You might want to be a little bit more flexible in your camera policies,” Kuhn said. 

She said further research is needed to determine how to use meeting platforms effectively and whether having a camera turned on impacts learning outcomes. She’d also like to see studies done about how virtual meetings equalize participation.  

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