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First neurophysiological evidence proving ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real

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First neurophysiological evidence proving ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real

What is more tiring than a day out in the real world full of meetings and lectures? It turns out taking those same meetings at home in front of the computer is more exhausting, with a team of researchers offering some of the first physiological evidence proving the phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real.

Back in early 2020 online video communication quickly moved from an occasional novelty for most people to a day-to-day staple. The pandemic shifted millions of people to working from home, and the videoconferencing software Zoom rapidly became so prominent that its title turned into the general verb for all kinds of video communications.

Within weeks of this monumental global behavioral shift the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ emerged to describe the unique kind of exhaustion many were feeling following a day of videoconferencing. Tracking the phenomenon from the beginning of the pandemic, Stanford University communications expert Jeremy Bailenson was not surprised to see these reports emerge. After two decades of work studying the human impacts of virtual communication Bailenson swiftly presented a compelling theory to explain why Zoom communication is so much more exhausting than in-person interaction.

While the idea of ‘Zoom fatigue’ has become commonly accepted as a real phenomenon, its existence has only ever been characterized by self-reports. A new study published in Scientific Reports set out to fill that gap in the knowledge, exploring whether heightened physiological markers of fatigue can be detected during and after videoconferencing.

“In order to demonstrate potential fatigue effects, in our experimental study we measured users’ ongoing electroencephalogram (EEG) during a videoconferencing session, as well as their event-related potentials (ERPs) before and after a videoconferencing session based on a cognitive attention task,” the researchers write in the study. “Importantly, we contrasted these results with corresponding EEG data from a face-to-face condition in which the exact same content was provided to the meeting participants. The context of our study was a 50-min university lecture.”

Alongside the EEG data the researchers looked at electrocardiography (ECG), tracking heart rate variability, as another metric for fatigue. Across all physiological measures the study found higher rates of fatigue with the videoconferencing test compared to the in-person lecture.

The findings present the first objective neurophysiological data validating the phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue.’ Although the study does indicate the fatigue felt following videoconferencing sessions is real, the researchers don’t argue for a complete elimination of the technology.

“… our results suggest that use of videoconferencing may lead to cognitive costs, which must not be ignored by individuals and organizations,” the study states. “However, as it is unrealistic to recommend completely abstaining from the use of videoconferencing tools, the future study of effective countermeasures to reduce the fatigue and stress potential of videoconferencing will be critical for sustaining human well-being and health in an increasingly digital world.”

While future research will certainly look to establish effective ways to combat ‘Zoom fatigue’ there are some early studies that suggest some potential methods we can all use. One 2021 study from the University of Arizona found switching your camera off during Zoom meetings can significantly reduce levels of self-reported fatigue. Another more recent study recommended standing and walking around the room during Zoom meetings to improve creative thinking.

The new study was published in Scientific Reports.

Source: Graz University of Technology

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