You know how we’ve all been glued to Zoom for a year in an effort to mimic the face-to-face cues of meetings? Zoom might not be the best way to do that.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University studied the effectiveness of collaboration and group efforts on video and audio calls, and they were surprised by their own findings: Videoconferencing hampered group collaboration and problem solving.
“We found that video conferencing can actually reduce collective intelligence,” says coauthor Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “This is because it leads to more unequal contribution to conversation and disrupts vocal synchrony. Our study underscores the importance of audio cues, which appear to be compromised by video access.”
Audio cues, the researchers found, are pivotal to task success—more so than facial cutes. In tracking both facial and speech (intonation, tone, rhythm, etc.) cues among 99 duos completing six tasks, they found that video not only had no impact on group intelligence, but that video also reduces audio cue synchrony and lowers a pair’s ability to take turns. This reduces equal exchange, and hurts collective intelligence. You’ve surely experienced this: a Zoom meeting, where you sat back and let someone else run the show. The same behavior by phone would lead to dead air, so you would talk.
The take-home here is that you might question whether or not Zoom is the best format for some meetings. It’s early days in videoconference research, and this study is limited to analyzing collective intelligence through facial and audio cues, and not, say, staff meetings, one-on-one chats between employees and bosses, or your weekly therapy appointment—let alone how traits like gender and rank play into the mix.
The researchers are, however, preaching to the choir: Many journalists swear by audio calls to get people talking and cooperative because, well, it works.