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It might be worth it to disable the video function during online conferencing via various tools. Unsplash

As video conferencing remains the only option for millions of workers as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to surge, a new study has challenged the effectiveness of online meetings, suggesting that non-visual communication methods that better synchronize and boost audio cues are, in fact, more effective.

The findings showed that it might be worth disabling the video function during online conferencing via various tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, in order to promote better communication and social interaction during collaborative problem-solving sessions. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the US studied collective intelligence — the ability of a group to solve a wide range of problems — and how synchrony in non-verbal cues helps to develop it.


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‘We found that video conferencing can actually reduce collective intelligence,” said Anita Williams Woolley, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “This is because it leads to more unequal contribution to the conversation and disrupts vocal synchrony. Our study underscores the importance of audio cues, which appear to be compromised by video access,” she added in a paper that appeared in the journal PLoS One.

Essentially, the conversation is what happens when at least two speakers take turns sharing their thoughts, and nonverbal cues are how they establish when and how to take these turns. Currently, video conferencing has become the de facto tool for group collaboration within many organizations. The prevalent assumption is that technology that helps to mimic face-to-face interactions via a video camera will be most effective in achieving the same results.


Conversation is what happens when at least two speakers take turns sharing their thoughts. Unsplash

To challenge this assumption, researchers focused on two forms of synchrony: facial expression synchrony and prosodic synchrony. Facial expression synchrony is pretty straightforward and involves the perceived movement of facial features. Prosodic synchrony, on the other hand, captures the intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm of speech. Woolley and her colleagues pulled together a large, diverse sample of 198 individuals and divided them into 99 pairs.

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During a 30-minute session, each duo completed six tasks designed to test collective intelligence. The groups with video access did achieve some form of collective intelligence through facial expression synchrony, suggesting that when the video is available, collaborators should be aware of these cues. However, the researchers found that prosodic synchrony improved collective intelligence whether or not the group had access to video technology and that this synchrony was enhanced by equality in speaking turns.

“Most strikingly, though, was that video access dampened the pairs’ ability to achieve equality in speaking turns, meaning that using video conferencing can actually limit prosodic synchrony and, therefore, impede upon collective intelligence,” the researchers noted. (IANS/SP)


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