Three studies on university students and young people found that having one's camera on during online courses increased social appearance anxiety and decreased learning. Participants who had the chance to see themselves on screen reported even greater social appearance anxiety.
Lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 began in early 2020 in many countries. Schools were closed, and the need arose to find a way to resume teaching activities under these new conditions. In contrast to the need to maintain physical distance from other people in order to avoid the spread of respiratory diseases, COVID-19 was foremost.
Despite the fact that these new online learning platforms include the ability to view oneself on screen during lectures, some preliminary studies suggest that students may be worried about being criticized by others because of how one looks.
Students are usually focused on the instructor while the instructor is not lecturing. Students typically interact with other students during lecture breaks. However, online video platforms typically have the self-view toggle on (i.e. showing one's own picture as captured by the camera) by default.
Ingrid S. Tien, a PhD student in human development and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, wanted to see whether students who keep their cameras on during lectures would experience greater anxiety.
“I had also been interested in body image dissatisfaction and appearance anxiety, from very minor appearance reminders (e.g. a small mirror on your desk), and heard my colleagues talking about their difficulties in class because they were so obsessed with their appearance most of the time.”
Tien and her coworkers conducted three experiments.
In the first experiment, 171 undergraduate students (120 female) participated in a 15-minute online lecture on Russian fairy tales. They were randomly assigned to turn off their cameras and complete an anxiety assessment (the State Trait Anxiety Inventory) as well as a test assessing their general everyday anxiety. Participants completed this task in groups of 8 to 10.
The second experiment was similar to the first, except that groups now included 30 to 40 participants. A total of 124 individuals participated in the second experiment.
The researchers wanted to see whether the observed results are the result of just the camera being turned on or of the self-view option i.e., whether having a camera on but without self-view would produce a difference. The participants completed a test that was similar to that conducted in groups of 10 to 25.
The authors of the second experiment used statistical methods to assess general anxiety.
The third experiment demonstrated that viewing situations, i.e. whether the student had his/her camera on or off, affected social appearance anxiety. The statistical model demonstrated that social appearance anxiety mediated the knowledge test performance. Higher levels of social appearance anxiety were linked to lower scores on the knowledge test.
The viewing condition had an indirect impact on test performance due to appearance anxiety, according to the research. The camera-on/self-view-off condition had a greater negative impact on learning because it increased anxiety levels.
Tien told PsyPost that Zoom's general appearance is valid. “Make sure you remain awake for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, and use Zoom's "hide self-view" feature to reduce appearance anxiety,” she said.
There was no evidence that the results differed among people, according to the researchers.
Tien stated, "Considering the extensive literature citing high levels of appearance anxiety among women, it was surprising that we did not find a significant difference by gender." "This, to me, implies that everyone is impacted by the effects of Zoom and the accompanying Zoom Fatigue."
The research provides valuable insights into the emotional dynamics of online teaching sessions. However, it also has limitations that must be considered. For example, all participants were students, and most of them were women. Furthermore, experiments were conducted in a context and groups unfamiliar to students, or on a topic that is not part of their regular educational content.
"This was conducted during the peak pandemic season, or what others would refer to as 'COVID-year,' during the 2020-2021 school year," Tien said. "The long term effects of Zoom Fatigue and appearance anxiety, as well as the impact on overall courses, will likely need to be studied, now that we are a couple of years away from the outbreak."
Ingrid S. Tien, Megan N. Imundo, and Elizabeth Ligon Bjork wrote a paper titled "Seeing oneself during synchronous online learning increases appearance anxiety and memory loss for lecture content."