21 Dec 2023

Getting personal

Video calls appear to be here to stay after the Covid-19 pandemic moved meetings online. But new research shows that our brains react in different ways to faces we see on screen compared to ones we look at in real life. The study monitored brain activity during face-to-face interactions in-person and online. Researchers developed a new series of neuroimaging tools to track what was happening during a series of conversations involving two people.

They found that during the in-person situations, the area of the brain connected to social interactions was much more active than during the virtual conversations. The face-to-face interactions showed increased gaze time and more pupil dilation, suggesting increased interest in the participants’ brains. And there was also more coordinated activity between the two brains when the individuals spoke in person.

The study, published in the Imaging Neuroscience journal, said: “Recent global adaptations to enforced social isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic have led to the development of and dependence upon webcam online formats for live communications. The rapid and widespread use of this technology sets the stage for this timely question of how social interactions based on face gaze differ between live ‘in-person’ and live ‘online’ (webcam) modes of presentation.”

Read more about the study and download a copy.

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