/What are You Looking At? ‘Virtual’ Communication in the Age of Social Distancing

What are You Looking At? ‘Virtual’ Communication in the Age of Social Distancing

Summary: First-of-its-kind Study Explores Phenomenon of Visual Cues and Live Video Interactions

Original author and publication date: Florida Atlantic University – March 30, 2020

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: We need to relearn how to talk now that we are no longer talking face to face.

For the study, researchers focused on three areas of interest, which they used for fixation analyses: full face (purple), eyes (red) and mouth (blue). Florida Atlantic University

From the article:

From health care to education to media, social distancing across the globe due to coronavirus (COVID-19) has created the need to conduct business “virtually” using Skype, web conferencing, FaceTime and any other means available. With this expansive use of mobile and video devices, now more than ever, it is important to understand how the use of these technologies may impact communication. But are all forms of online communication alike?

In a first-of-its-kind study, neuroscientists from Florida Atlantic University demonstrate that a person’s gaze is altered during tele-communication if they think that the person on the other end of the conversation can see them. People are very sensitive to the gaze direction of others and even 2-day-old infants prefer faces where the eyes are looking directly back at them. The phenomenon known as “gaze cueing,” a powerful signal for orienting attention, is a mechanism that likely plays a role in the developmentally and socially important wonder of “shared” or “joint” attention where a number of people attend to the same object or location. The ability to do this is what makes humans unique among primates.

Throughout almost all of human history, conversations were generally conducted face-to-face, so people knew where their conversational partner was looking and vice versa. Now, with virtual communication, that assumption no longer holds – sometimes people communicate with both cameras on while other times only the speaker may be visible. The researchers set out to determine whether being observed affects people’s behavior during online communication.

For the study, published in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, co-authors Elan Barenholtz, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology, a member of the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and a member of FAU’s Brain Institute (I-BRAIN), and Michael J. Kleiman, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at FAU, compared fixation behavior in 173 participants under two conditions: one in which the participants believed they were engaging in a real-time interaction and one in which they knew they were watching a pre-recorded video.

The researchers wanted to know if face fixation would increase in the real-time condition based on the social expectation of facing one’s speaker in order to get attention or if it would lead to greater face avoidance, based on social norms as well as the cognitive demands of encoding the conversation.

Similarly, they wanted to know where participants would fixate on the face. Would it be the eyes more in the real-time condition because of social demands to make eye contact with one’s speaker? Or, in the pre-recorded condition, where the social demands to make eye contact are eliminated, would participants spend more time looking at the mouth in order to encode the conversation, which is consistent with previous studies showing greater mouth fixations during an encoding task.

Results of the study showed that participants fixated on the whole face in the real-time condition and significantly less in the pre-recorded condition. In the pre-recorded condition, time spent fixating on the mouth was significantly greater compared to the real-time condition.

There were no significant differences in time spent fixating on the eyes between the real-time and the pre-recorded conditions. These findings may suggest that participants are more comfortable looking directly at the mouth of a speaker – which has previously been found to be optimal for encoding speech – when they think that no one is watching them.

READ the complete original article here.