Low Moods May Arise From Staring at Yourself During Online Meetings, Calls

These findings strengthen the challenges of online meeting platforms and raise the issue of the psychological problems that may be occurring in people participating in online activities, such as anxiety and depression.

New research has found that a person’s mood will decrease over the course of a conversation the more they look at themselves while taking part in an online chat, according to a press release from Illinois News Bureau.

These findings strengthen the challenges of online meeting platforms and raise the issue of the psychological problems that may be occurring in people participating in online activities, such as anxiety and depression.

“We used eye-tracking technology to examine the relationship between mood, alcohol and attentional focus during virtual social interaction,” said Talia Ariss, a University of Illinois (U of I) Urbana-Champaign doctoral candidate who led the research with U of I psychology professor Catharine Fairbairn, in the press release. “We found that participants who spent more time looking at themselves during the conversation felt worse after the call, even after controlling for pre-interaction negative mood. And those who were under the influence of alcohol spent more time looking at themselves.”

Additionally, the new study adds to previous studies that suggest that people who focus more on themselves than on external realities may be susceptible to mood disorders, according to the study authors.

“The more self-focused a person is, the more likely they are to report feeling emotions that are consistent with things like anxiety and even depression,” Ariss said in the press release. “Users of the online video call platform Zoom increased 30-fold during the pandemic—burgeoning from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million by April 2020,” the researchers wrote. “The pandemic has yielded a surge in levels of depression and anxiety and, given reports of heightened self-awareness and ‘fatigue’ during virtual exchange, some have posited a role for virtual interaction in exacerbating such trends.”

The participants in the study answered questions about their emotional status before and after the online conversations, and they were instructed to discuss what they like and dislike about the local community during the chats as well as their musical preferences. Further, each participant was able to see themselves and their conversation partners on a split-screen monitor, and some consumed an alcoholic beverage before talking while others drank nonalcoholic beverages.

Although the participants stared at their conversation partners on the monitor more than themselves, there was a significant difference in the amount of time that the individual participants spent gazing at themselves.

“The cool thing about virtual social interactions, especially in platforms like Zoom, is that you can simulate the experience of looking in a mirror,” Ariss said in the press release.

The addition of alcohol in the research and using eye-tracking technology also allowed the researchers to explore how mild inebriation affected where a person focused their attention.

“In the context of in-person social interactions, there is strong evidence that alcohol acts as a social lubricant among drinkers and has these mood-enhancing properties,” Ariss said in the press release. “This did not hold true, however, in the online conversations, where alcohol consumption corresponded to more self-focus and had none of its typical mood-boosting effects.”

Fairbarn added that at this point in the pandemic, many people have come to the realization that virtual interactions are not the same as face-to-face.

“A lot of folks are struggling with fatigue and melancholy after a full day of Zoom meetings,” Fairbarn said in the press release. “Our work suggests the self-view offered in many online video platforms might make those interactions more of a slog than they need to be.”

Reference

Staring at yourself during virtual chats may worsen your mood, research finds. Illinois News Bureau. June 13, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2022. https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/117509126

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