Staring at yourself during virtual chats may worsen your mood
A new study finds that the more a person stares at themself while talking with a partner in an online chat, the more their mood degrades over the course of the conversation. Alcohol use appears to worsen the problem, the researchers found.
Reported in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the findings point to a potentially problematic role of online meeting platforms in exacerbating psychological problems like anxiety and depression, the researchers said.
“We used eye-tracking technology to examine the relationship between mood, alcohol and attentional focus during virtual social interaction,” said Talia Ariss, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign doctoral candidate who led the research with U. of I. psychology professor Catharine Fairbairn. “We found that participants who spent more time looking at themselves during the conversation felt worse after the call, even after controlling for pre-interaction negative mood. And those who were under the influence of alcohol spent more time looking at themselves.”
The findings add to previous studies suggesting that people who focus more on themselves than on external realities — especially during social interactions — may be susceptible to mood disorders, Ariss said.
“The more self-focused a person is, the more likely they are to report feeling emotions that are consistent with things like anxiety and even depression,” she said.
“Users of the online video call platform Zoom increased 30-fold during the pandemic — burgeoning from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million by April 2020,” the researchers wrote. “The pandemic has yielded a surge in levels of depression and anxiety and, given reports of heightened self-awareness and ‘fatigue’ during virtual exchange, some have posited a role for virtual interaction in exacerbating such trends.”
In the study, participants answered questions about their emotional status before and after the online conversations. They were instructed to talk about what they liked and disliked about living in the local community during the chats, and to discuss their musical preferences. Participants could see themselves and their conversation partners on a split-screen monitor. Some consumed an alcoholic beverage before talking and others drank a nonalcoholic beverage.
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