Video meetings dampen brainstorming because we’re so focused on the face in that box that we don’t let our eyes and minds wander as much, according to a new study.
Looking is not good for creativity. While it’s rude to stare at someone in real life, it’s normal during a video call, the researchers said.
However, when it comes to evaluating these new ideas, this focus, at least in one-on-one discussions, seems to make remote meetings slightly better than in-person discussions, according to Wednesday’s study. in the journal Nature.
The researchers observed 745 pairs of engineers in five different countries trying to come up with creative ideas for using a Frisbee or bubble wrap. Those in the same room generated one more idea on average, about 17% more than those in remote meetings. And those in-person ideas were judged by outside experts to be more creative, according to the study.
Study author Melanie Brucks, a professor of applied psychology at Columbia University’s business school, said that was the result she expected, but not the reason she was was waiting there.
At first, she thought it must have been social and physical distancing — maybe the two people just didn’t connect as well or people didn’t know who was talking when. But several different social connectivity tests found that remote meeting pairs connected with each other the same way people in the same room did.
Then the eyes betrayed him. When Brucks tracked eye movement, she found that people in the same room looked away more often, looking around. But the remote meeting pairs did not.
“They were too focused on the task at hand and it made them narrower in their thinking,” Brucks said – in a Zoom interview.
It makes sense because faces grab our attention, said Georgetown University psychology professor Adam Green, who was not part of the research.
“Faces really matter to our brains, and we spend a lot of attention looking at faces,” said Green, president of the Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity. “When we’re with someone in person, it’s not considered polite to look directly at their face for an extended period of time.”
Remote meetings work differently, Brucks said.
“It’s not that Zoom is bad, everything is worse. It seems (the problem) is unique to the more generative creative process,” Brucks said.
When evaluating these options, engineers in the remote meeting picked the best choice — judged by a team of outside experts — slightly more than those in person, according to the study.
The experiment started before the pandemic and was carried out using WebEx with a company in offices in Portugal, Israel, Finland, Hungary and India. The results were pretty much the same from place to place.
“When I reflect on Zoom now, I turn off my camera,” Brucks said. She notes that it’s no different than talking on the phone, except she makes a personal connection starting with the camera on.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears
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