Psychologists tell us why we can’t stop staring at ourselves on Zoom

an illustration of how a person looks at themselves during a zoom call.

Why are we always looking at ourselves in the Video Cats? (Photo: Ella Bayworth for Metro.co.uk)

Zoom and other video calling applications have saved us the last few weeks by enabling us to communicate with friends and family while staying safe at home.

We were pleased with our ability to stay in touch with our loved ones during this difficult time, which raises a simple question…

…why are we staring at each other on the phone?

It doesn’t make any sense. The beauty of video calling is that it allows you to see your friends and family, and you don’t have to constantly test yourself in front of our front cameras.

Did the blockade really piss us off, and is this something else we should add to our coronavirus alarm checklist?

Dr Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts in London, explains that this phenomenon of camera vanity is actually more common than one might think. It is also very similar to the way we react to real (non-numerical) social situations.

Dr. Paul told Metro: Psychologists believe that our focus has evolved to automatically draw attention to information about us, probably because this ability has helped us to survive in our past as hunter-gatherers.

You’ve probably experienced the cocktail effect that occurs when you find someone calling your name or talking about you in a noisy, crowded environment.

Seeing ourselves on video is the visual equivalent of the cocktail party effect – our advanced automatic attention system combats the conscious desire to pay attention to the person we’re talking to and our eyes return to ourselves.

Female laptop

We know you’re in control.

In the same way, Dennis Relojo-Howell, founder of the psychological site for Psychreg and YouTuber, notes that the forward-facing camera looks very much like a mirror – so it will probably attract our attention.

He says: We tend to look at each other more often during video calls because their configuration resembles a mirror.

This could encourage us to do our best.

There is also an element of self-expression – we want to make sure we are showing the right facial expressions, body language and gestures.

According to the theory of self-expression, impression management plays a major role in the way we interact with others, especially in highly visual media such as video chat.

Organisational psychologist Karen Kwong explains that this technology can confuse us if we focus on our loved ones.

She says… The camera lens, especially the one on the phone, is placed in an extremely large angle, so that it distorts our faces slightly, which can accentuate shadows and other imperfections.

So it’s only natural to be curious and want to watch. And if you are a little ashamed of yourself or your body, this uncertainty will increase.

Karen also explains it by the fact that the cameras on the phones show us in a form we don’t know.

She goes on to say: Another technical and fascinating aspect is that smartphones do not portray us as a mirror, but in an original and inverted form. And yet every day we only see ourselves in a mirror.

Read more: Health

Research has shown that we prefer mirrored images of ourselves when people see the same images of themselves, in their original inverted, mirrored form.

So, again, it will distract you from looking at others, because there is a gap between what you think you are and what you think you look like compared to what you see on the screen.

Karen also says it’s perfectly normal to be distracted by video calls.

She says… With all these distractions – most of which are dexterity and humour – it’s no wonder you can’t concentrate on the conversation, the other participants and what they have to say.

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