May 22, 2022

New Research: “Eye Tracking Reveals Where People Look During Zoom, Webex”

From Iowa St. University:

During the dramatic halt to in-person events in 2020, the use of video call software skyrocketed, transforming Zoom into a household name, opening the door to telehealth, and spurring ongoing conversations about the future of work. The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but videoconference calls, whether through Zoom, Webex or some other platform, are here to stay.

An innovative, first-of-its-kind study recently explored what people look at during virtual meetings. The findings from this and future research may help people avoid distractions and inform the future design of videoconferencing.

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To collect data for their study, the researchers asked each participant to sit in front of a computer screen in a minimal, windowless room during two videoconference calls. The first included a 15-minute interactive Webex meeting with three other people and a fake user whose video and audio were turned off. Part-way through the meeting, the researchers introduced distractions: someone eating crackers and drinking soda, another adjusting their moving desk, which changed the user’s background.

Each participant then watched 10 minutes of a recorded Zoom video of a city council meeting. With two dozen people in attendance, the user frames shifted whenever someone new started to talk.

Heat Map Indicating Relative Gaze Times per Frame for the Recorded Zoom Meeting. Source: 10.24251/HICSS.2022.582

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During the small group, interactive video meetings, participants spent one third of the time looking at something other than the computer screen. As a comparison, participants spent 11% of the time looking off the screen during the large group video recording. The researchers also found people looked at the planned distractions (i.e., snacking, changing background) during the experiment, but only for several seconds before reverting their gaze.

The research team also found women looked at their own videos much more than men. As to why this might be, George pointed to a study from Stanford University last year in which women consistently reported more “mirror anxiety” associated with the self-view in video calls.

George said people adapted very quickly to virtual meetings during the first year of the pandemic, but the format still feels unnatural.

“How many in-person meetings have you been to where you sit on one side of the table, and everyone else sits on the other side of the table and looks at you the whole time? That would drive people crazy. We may see reactions from people across from us or turn our head when someone speaks, but we don’t see everyone’s face at the same time,” he said, adding that this staring or “hyper gaze” can trigger higher levels of stress and “Zoom fatigue.”

Learn More, Read the Complete Research Summary

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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