The Brain Activates Differently In Virtual Meetings

Andy Hab
3 min readNov 24, 2023

Virtual meetings generate different patterns in the brain compared to in-person meetings

Doesn’t the rule apply, that you always say, that if it feels different, it is different in the brain?

For sure, but in the context of virtual video meetings, or even various online interactions there is evidence that similar areas of the brain are activated as in social exchanges.

Secondly, we have visual contact, can speak in real time and we can see visual expressions and body language cues

But this seems to be not enough?

Precisely and this is what Joy Hirsch and Nan Zhao of Yale managed to explore in a more refined way.

When it comes to neuroscience research it is normally only possible or practical to measure one person at a time. this is particularly true if you are crammed in a scanner and can’t actually interact with a real person anyway but only with pictures.

Hirsch and colleagues managed to use more sophisticated neuroimaging technologies and measure two people simultaneously and combined this with EEG (brain wave) recordings.

Basically this gives us a better and more refined insight into what is happening in the brain during social interactions. In-person and virtually.

And what did they find?

In short, according to them:

“Zoom appears to be an impoverished social communication system relative to in-person conditions.”

Oh dear but in what way?

Well there are a complex bunch of brain activities happening during social interactions, these range from visual cue processing, to language recognition, to social functions such as empathy.

And basically in the online interaction all processing was much lower showing lowered brain engagement but likely also less ability to read social cues and emotions. This was also reflected in other physical measure such as pupil dilation, and gaze time.

So, simply, though similar activities did occur the level is much lower in virtual meetings, or rather much higher in in-person contexts.

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!