This is Your Brain on Zoom

FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- You might be talking to a real person while on Zoom, but it’s just not the same to your brain as a face-to-face conversation.

New research using sophisticated imaging tools found that the brain activity of people engaged in conversation looks different from that of two people conversing on Zoom.

“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,” said senior author Joy Hirsch. She is a professor of psychiatry, comparative medicine and neuroscience at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

“Zoom appears to be an impoverished social communication system relative to in-person conditions,” she explained in a Yale news release.

Zoom, of course, is a popular videoconferencing platform.

Most previous research using imaging tools to track brain activity involved single individuals, rather than pairs in natural settings.

The researchers noted that human brains are finely tuned to process facial cues during in-person encounters.

In this study, which recorded neural system responses in the two types of conversations, increased neural signaling among participants in face-to-face conversations was associated with increased gaze time and wider pupils.

This suggested increased arousal in the two brains.

Participants in in-person interactions also had increased brain wave activity characteristic of enhanced face-processing ability, the study authors said.

The investigators also found more coordinated neural activity between the brains of individuals conversing in person. This suggests an increase in reciprocal exchanges of social cues between the pairs, the authors said.

“Overall, the dynamic and natural social interactions that occur spontaneously during in-person interactions appear to be less apparent or absent during Zoom encounters,” Hirsch said. “This is a really robust effect.”

Live, face-to-face interactions are important for humans’ natural social behaviors, Hirsch said.

“Online representations of faces, at least with current technology, do not have the same ‘privileged access’ to social neural circuitry in the brain that is typical of the real thing,” she said.

The study findings were published Oct. 25 in the journal Imaging Neuroscience.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on social connectedness and health.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Oct. 25, 2023

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