The Psychology of Zoom Fatigue

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While it’s hard to capture every story, we hope to periodically share in this space some of the major accomplishments or projects that are taking place. Members of the executive team will write about important topics that they feel NVC employees should be made aware of.

Let us know about the positive things your area is doing to help students or improve processes by contacting myself or NVC Marketing & Strategic Communications.

– Dr. Ric Baser, NVC President



Russell Frohardt, Ph.D.
NVC Dean for Academic Success

Ever wonder why you are so tired during the pandemic when it feels like you’ve barely left your chair all day? Recently, I was reading an article in the Stanford News by Dr. Vignesh Ramachandran about the causes of a phenomenon called ‘Zoom fatigue’, and appreciated the insight into the challenges that so many of us are experiencing as we try to learn, work, and play through videoconferencing.

The second part of the piece that I found refreshing was the recommended solutions for getting some relief from Zoom fatigue with some practical modifications in the technology and our own behaviors, based on a study by Jeremy Bailenson, published in the journal, Technology, Mind, and Behavior. I would like to share Bailenson’s four primary reasons why video chats fatigue humans and his proposed solutions.

Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact are highly intense.

The amount of eye contact and size of faces on screens is just unnatural. In a one-on-one videoconference, your brain interprets a face that close as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or conflict. That’s a lot of time to spend in a hyper-aroused state.

Solution: Take the platform out of full-screen mode and reduce the size of the window relative to the size of the monitor, and use an external keyboard to allow for more personal space. 

Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

Being on Zoom all day is like being followed around all day by someone holding up a large square mirror while you try to interact with people. You tend to be more critical of yourself when seeing your reflection frequently. Plastic surgeons are reporting unprecedented requests for procedures because people don’t like how they look on Zoom.

Solution: Platforms should change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others, to only sending to others, or users can use the “hide self-view” button once seeing that their face is properly framed.

Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.

Most people move around some in face-to-face meetings or on the phone. Videoconferences tend to keep you in one place.

Solution: Think about the room you are in for a videoconference and if the camera is positioned where an external keyboard could help create distance or flexibility.

The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

We pick up on lots of nonverbal communication in face-to-face interactions that are much harder to pick up in video chats. To agree with someone on Zoom you have to exaggerate your nod or put your virtual thumb up. That adds to your mental calories used while you are interacting.

Solution: During long stretches of meetings or classes, give yourself an “audio only” break where you turn off your camera and turn away from the screen to avoid being smothered by gestures that are perceptually realistic, but socially meaningless.

Transitioning with Compassion

Like everything in neuroscience and psychology, these solutions are not absolutes. Your boss or teacher may need you to be on screen for a meeting or class, at least for certain periods of time. We also need to acknowledge how important videoconferencing technology has been in allowing us to continue teaching and learning during periods of quarantine and social distancing. As we recover from the pandemic and transition back to campus, I ask that all of us at NVC continue to be compassionate with each other and our students by offering opportunities for breaks and self-care.

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