Looking At Yourself On Zoom May Worsen Your Mood; Alcohol Doesn't Help: Study

Looking at your own face during an online chat can end up worsening your mood, a new study has found. Adding alcohol to the mix doesn't help either.

The pandemic moved many of our meetings and gatherings online, so much so that many people ended up experiencing the so-called Zoom fatigue, or the exhaustion individuals may feel after video calls.

In a new study that's set to be published soon in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, a team of researchers found a particular practice that may impact our mood after such meetings: looking at our own faces.

For their work, the researchers asked the participants to answer a few questions about their emotional status before and after online conversations, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) noted in a news release.

During the chats, in which the participants could see both themselves and their conversation partners on the screen, they talked about topics such as their music preferences and the things that they liked or disliked about their local communities. Some of them drank an alcoholic beverage before talking, while others drank a non-alcoholic one.

"We used eye-tracking technology to examine the relationship between mood, alcohol and attentional focus during virtual social interaction," Talia Aiass of UIUC, co-research lead with Catharine Fairbairn, said in the university news release.

While the participants looked at their conversation partners on the screen more than they looked at themselves, the researchers also found that the amount of time the participants looked at themselves varied. And those who were more "self-focused" were more likely to report emotions linked to anxiety and depression after the call, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) noted in a news release. Simply put, their moods worsened.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that alcohol doesn't help with the problem, as those who drank alcohol were also more likely to look at themselves.

"In the context of in-person social interactions, there is strong evidence that alcohol acts as a social lubricant among drinkers and has these mood-enhancing properties," Ariss said. "This did not hold true, however, in the online conversations, where alcohol consumption corresponded to more self-focus and had none of its typical mood-boosting effects."

In other words, while alcohol may have benefits during normal social interactions, the case may not be the same online. It may even worsen the effect of looking at ourselves during the chat, APS noted.

"These findings point to a potentially problematic role of online meeting platforms in exacerbating psychological problems like anxiety and depression," Ariss said.

Indeed, the pandemic's shift to virtual meetings has had various impacts on people's mental health. For instance, such meetings can take a long time, leading some to continuously focus on their appearance, something that experts say may be detrimental to mental health. Experts have also noted how online meetings require more focus and energy compared to face-to-face meetings.

"At this point in the pandemic, many of us have come to the realization that virtual interactions just aren't the same as face-to-face," said Fairbairn.

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