Brains Less Active During Zoom Calls Than In-Person Conversations

Researchers have taken a close look at how our brains respond during online conversations, like those on Zoom. Their findings reveal an interesting difference: when we engage in digital chats, our brain activity shows a distinct pattern compared to traditional face-to-face discussions.

What Did the Researchers Find?

Researchers, including Yale professor Joy Hirsch, observed that during a live conversation, our brain shows a rich system of neurological activity. On the contrary, during a Zoom call, this activity was noticeably less. “In this study we find that the social systems of the human brain are more active during real live in-person encounters than on Zoom,” shared Professor Hirsch.

The study shows our brains react differently when we see faces on screens compared to in person. This might be why online chats often feel less engaging than face-to-face ones.

For a better understanding, the scientists compared the two scenarios: speaking in real life and speaking on Zoom. In real-life conversations, they noticed that participants’ eyes would often stay longer on the other person’s face. This is different from online interactions where such engagement was less frequent.

The study also revealed that brain activity between two individuals conversing face-to-face was more synchronised. This suggests that more social cues get shared between the two people. “Online representations of faces, at least with current technology, do not have the same access to social neural circuitry in the brain,” mentioned Professor Hirsch.


The Experiment and its Findings

Professor Hirsch and her team from Yale made use of unique neuroimaging technologies to monitor real-time brain activity during interactions between two individuals, both in-person and on Zoom. They noticed that neural signals were considerably stronger in face-to-face conversations. There was increased eye contact, and the participants’ pupils were more dilated. This could be an indicator of heightened interest or arousal.

Why is This Relevant?

These findings are important because more people are using digital ways to talk and connect. While online tools like Zoom offer convenience, we might be missing out on certain social elements that only in-person interactions can provide.

Professor Hirsch believes that these results remind us of the importance of direct human interaction in our social behaviours. “Online images of faces, with the technology we have now, don’t connect to our brain’s social circuits as effectively as the real thing,” she added.

These findings don’t mean we should ditch online meetings altogether. They serve as a reminder that while digital communication tools have their place, face-to-face interactions offer a richness that technology hasn’t been able to replicate completely.

The digital world has given us tools to communicate across distances like never before. This research shows that face-to-face chats are still different. Even when we see faces on screens, our brains know it’s not the same. As Professor Hirsch pointed out, real-life interactions light up our brains in ways that Zoom just can’t match. So, the next time you’re choosing between a video call or a coffee chat, remember your brain might thank you for the latter!