Psychologists tell us why we can’t stop staring at ourselves on Zoom
Zoom and other video call apps have saved us over the past few weeks, allowing us to interact with friends and family while staying safe in our homes.
We’ve been raving non-stop about the ability to keep us connected with our nearest and dearest at this difficult time – which poses one simple question…
….why on earth are we staring at ourselves during the calls?
It doesn’t make sense. The whole point of a video call is that it’s an opportunity to see friends and family – not to constantly check ourselves out in our front-view cameras.
Has lockdown really turned us into raging narcissists and is this something else we should be adding to our coronavirus anxiety checklist?
Dr Paul Marsden, consumer psychologist at University of the Arts London, explains that this vain camera phenomenon is actually more common than we might think. It’s also very similar to the way we respond to real-life (non-digital) social situations.
Dr Paul tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Psychologists believe that our powers of attention have evolved to automatically pay attention to information about ourselves, probably because this ability helped us survive in our hunter-gather past.
‘You’ve probably experienced this yourself with the “cocktail party effect,” which happens when you detect someone mentioning your name or talking about you in a loud and crowded environment.
‘Staring at ourselves on a video call is the visual equivalent of this cocktail party effect – our evolved automatic attention system fights with our conscious desire to pay attention to the person we’re talking to, and our eyes shift back to ourselves.’
Similarly, Dennis Relojo-Howell, founder of psychology website Psychreg and a psychology YouTuber, points out that the forward-facing camera is very similar to a mirror – so is likely to attract our attention.
He says: ‘We tend to stare more frequently to ourselves during video calls because its configuration resembles that of a mirror.
‘This can prompt us to make sure that we look our best.
‘There’s also an element of self-presentation involved – we want to make sure that we display the appropriate facial expressions, body language, and gestures.
‘According to self-presentation theory, impression management forms a huge role in how we interact with other people, especially on a very visual medium, such as video chat.’
Organisational psychologist Karen Kwong explains that it could be the technology itself that’s throwing us off concentrating on our loved ones.
She says: ‘The camera lens – especially those on the phone – are set at an extreme wide-angle and so this slightly distorts our faces, which can highlight shadows and other imperfections.
‘So it is totally natural to be curious and want to stare. And if you’re a little self-conscious or body-conscious already, this will exacerbate this insecurity’
Karen also explains this extends to the fact that phone cameras show us in a way that we are unfamiliar with.
She adds: ‘Another technical and fascinating aspect is that smartphones portray us in “original” unflipped form as opposed to a mirror image. And yet, only a daily basis, we only ever see ourselves in mirror image form.
‘Studies have shown that when people are shown identical pictures of themselves, in “original” unflipped form and in mirror form, we tend to prefer images of ourselves in mirror form.
‘So again, that will distract you from looking at the other people on the call because there is a disconnect between who you think you are and what you think you look like vs what you can see onscreen.’
Karen also assures that it’s completely normal to be distracted by yourself on a video call.
She says: ‘With all these distractions – most of which are tricks of technology and of the mind – it is no wonder that you cannot focus on the call, the other participants and what they have to say.’
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