While visual fatigue due to the screen time increase is a factor, video conferences are also likely responsible for significant psychological strain.
Since the start of the health crisis and the slew of different curfews/confinements, if there is one thing that has become democratized, it is video conferencing. For some, it has become essential to maintain the social bond with our loved ones, as well as maintaining professionalism in order to be able to continue our activities away from the offices.
A technology that has, yes, become essential, but which also has health consequences for its users: more and more suffer from 'Zoom fatigue,' a feeling of mental exhaustion in the face of the virtual meetings which follow one another, as described very well by an article published in 2020 on The Conversation. Indeed, these conversations require more energy, explains doctor in cognitive sciences Nawal Abboub.
The importance of non-verbal language
Gestures, postures, physiological manifestations... They are all clues in a discussion, allowing you to better understand the words of your interlocutor. This is called non-verbal language. Furthermore, according to the '3V rule,' from the work of Professor Albert Mehrabian published in 1967, 7% of general communication is linked to the meaning of the words used, 38% to the intonation of the voice and 55% to the expressions of the face.
Whether these numbers are accurate or not, they illustrate how important body language as a whole is in a trade. However, during a video conference, it is difficult to discern the gestures of the person opposite. The brain must then focus on the other indicators mentioned above... But these are also fuzzy, because they are always read with a slight delay, called 'desynchrony' by Nawal Abboub:
This is an offset that may be calculated in milliseconds. But this is enough to require additional effort from the brain to reconstruct reality.
Doctor in neuroscience Marie Lacroix confirms:
The reduction and the poor quality of the signals force us to be more attentive to follow and may cause moments of confusion in the conversation,
A glut of information and non-information
The fluidity and pace of the discussion are thus disturbed, especially as it is difficult to identify when someone begins a new sentence. Results: Everyone cuts off everyone else. The exchange of glances, essential for attention, memorization and connection, is also complicated. During a 'Zoom,' each participant fixates on his screen to look at the others. If he wanted to address them eye to eye, he would have to speak directly to the camera and thus miss the reactions of his interlocutors.
Add to all this the fact that in teleworking, personal and professional environments become one, you are then in fear that an outside element will disturb your work conversation. The brain is on constant alert. This is what National Geographic refers to as 'continuous partial attention'... and it would be like reading a book while cooking. A real brain-twister requiring a lot of concentration, and particularly exhausting.
You double-task your brain: you focus on both the person you are talking to and yourself. [...] There are many sources of distraction and that makes the space even more difficult to concentrate.
Advice to remedy this daily fatigue
- Take breakes away from screens
- Set shorter meeting times
- Avoid meetings with too many active people
- Remove the camera once the introduction is over, to focus on the voices
- Relying more on the voice, amplifying facial gestures
- Use alternative technologies, sending (when possible) instead messages, working on shared documents, etc.