States Podcast: Zoom Fatigue: The Fight Is Real

If, like most of us, you’re trying to connect online during a global pandemic, chances are you’ve got a bittersweet relationship with a program called Zoom. It’s helpful, but also exhausting.

University of Michigan psychology and linguistics professor Julie Boland calls this sensation zoom fatigue. It is a subject that teleworkers and students are very familiar with. Part of the problem comes from having difficulty finding a phrase and disrupting the natural flow of personal conversation.

“The response times were about three times longer when they talked about Zoom as opposed to a personal conversation,” concluded Boland and her team of three undergraduate students about their study participants.

“The pauses between speakers in a general English conversation with two participants averages only about 200 milliseconds,” said Boland. “And that’s faster than we can do pretty much anything.”

She explained that scientists think that one person’s brainwaves synchronize with the speed of the other person in order to react so quickly when speaking in person.

“This type of automatic synchronization of your brainwaves doesn’t work that well over Zoom because, in addition to the normal variability in speech rate, you have this additional variability caused by the delay in electronic transmission.”

She went on to say that response times are just one factor contributing to Zoom’s fatigue.

“It’s probably the combination of a lot of different things,” said Boland. “For example, it may be that we don’t make the same type of eye contact, or that non-visual cues don’t work as well because you might not see that much of the person’s body.”

To combat Zoom’s fatigue and keep your break sharp, Boland offered some advice.

“I would suggest experimenting with the parameters,” she said. “Turn off the cameras. That can help. You can try connecting through the phone instead of Zoom. Sometimes I find that switching back and forth between the phone and Zoom feels better than zooming all the time. “

Throughout her studies, Boland also observed a natural adaptation to zoom fatigue that helps remote workers communicate during online meetings. But it might be the last thing you would suspect: speaking for a long time.

“If part of the problem and the zoom fatigue is the kind of added stress deciding when to start talking after your partner has done it, then it is a way to take longer rounds to relieve that stress alleviate, since switching back and forth is less. It’s something that people naturally do without thinking about it. “

And another unexpected suggestion from her is reminiscent of the animal world:

“I often had a pet that showed up during class and my students actually liked that I think.”

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