Tip: Turn off your camera.


If you're feeling overly tired at the end of each day despite only traveling from your bedroom to your couch and back again, scientists want you to know this feeling is real, and that it's all technology's fault.

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, recently published a new study in the journal "Technology, Mind and Behavior" examining the psychological consequences of spending hours on end on platforms like Zoom. And it turns out, spending so much time on our screens isn't great in four distinct ways.

"Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense."

As Bailenson explained, staring into your coworker's eyes for prolonged periods of time is a lot on the human mind.

"Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural," the researchers and Stanford explained in a blog post. It added, in a normal meeting setting, people will change their eye contact from the speaker to their notes to looking at other people. Now, however, it's just looking at a screen full of people.

"Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population," Bailenson added. "When you're standing up there and everybody's staring at you, that's a stressful experience."

Beyond this, Bailenson noted that humans usually interpret someone so close in your face as either a threat or an invitation to mate, which could be ultra awkward with your co-workers. "What's happening, in effect, when you're using Zoom for many, many hours is you're in this hyper-aroused state," Bailenson said.

Businesswoman with face mask working using laptop
Credit: Maskot/Getty

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

To put it bluntly, Bailenson noted, looking at ourselves all day is a lot to deal with.

"In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly — so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback — you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that," he said. He added, it's led to many becoming critical of their own appearance, now noticing every line and freckle like never before.

"It's taxing on us. It's stressful. And there's lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror," he said.

"Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility."

In the before time, you'd take meetings walking around, on a phone, or at least given the choice to move about. Now, however, you're tethered to wherever you have strong internet access.

"There's a growing research now that says when people are moving, they're performing better cognitively," Bailenson said.

"The cognitive load is much higher in video chats."

With video chats, Bailenson says, your brain has to work a little harder to decode nonverbal communication as it's harder to see hand gestures and subtle movements.

"You've got to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up," Bailenson said. "That adds cognitive load as you're using mental calories in order to communicate."

So, what can we do to avoid all this as we continue to wade through our new high-tech world?

Bailenson suggested a few quick fixes including taking Zoom or any other platform off full-screen to minimize the size of people's faces. He also suggested using the "hide self-view" feature so you don't have to look at your own face the entire time. Finally, he suggested turning off your video every once in a while and allowing others to do the same.

"This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen," Bailenson said, "so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless."