Videoconferencing fatigue is real, study finds

Your brain and heart do not enjoy Zooming, Teamsing, or Webexing

Feeling especially drained after a day on Zoom is not a figment of your imagination – videoconferencing fatigue (VCF) is real, according to a study penned by a quartet of Austrian investigators.

"Self-report evidence, collected all around the world, indicates that VCF is a serious issue," wrote the authors of a study appearing in Scientific Reports, a journal published by Nature Reports.

However, most available research on VCF relies on personal accounts of the problem, and focuses on the cause rather than the consequences, explained the researchers.

To determine the effects on the brain caused by hours of videoconferences, the team measured electrical activity in the noggins of 35 university students who watched a 50-minute lecture while wired into an electroencephalogram (EEG). The researchers asked another group to watch same content live.

The researchers also calculated effects on heart rate for the two groups with electrocardiography (ECG), measured before and after videoconferencing sessions. Subjects were also given cognitive attention tasks and asked for self reports on moods.

Surprise, surprise: those attending the live lecture reported they felt more lively, happy and active, and less tired, drowsy and fed-up than online counterparts. The EEG results reflected the self-reporting by showing brain activity that indicates harder work and can therefore cause fatigue. The heart data also indicated higher fatigue among those watching the lecture online, hinting that the video version also impacted nervous systems.

"A major implication of our study is that videoconferencing should be considered as a possible complement to face-to-face interaction, but not as a substitute," concluded the authors.

The quartet readily admitted that the study has its limitations. For one, the lectures did not take place in an office setting, but an academic one, with the mean age hovering just below 24.

The study also didn't compare stress from VCF to that created by meatspace concerns – like having to navigate busy roads en route to a meeting. According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road crashes.

But such factors were outside of the scope of the study, which was conducted under the umbrella of an Austrian research program called Techno Stress that focuses on the detrimental effects of increased ICT interaction.

Techno Stress has already produced 20 papers. They include studies such as comparing social interactions in the metaverse to those in video conferencing, the effects of digital detoxing to manage stress, electronic surveillance in the workplace, and more. ®

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