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Videoconferences distort decisions with Howard Lichtman's Thoughts and Analysis

November 2, 2008 | Chris Payatagool

videoconferencex.jpgNEW YORK -- Videoconferencing is often heralded as the next best thing to being somewhere a cheaper, simpler alternative to traveling in person to attend a meeting. Yet a small study raises questions about whether videoconferencing distorts interactions in a subtle but important way.

The study found that doctors and nurses who attended seminars via videoconference were more likely to be influenced by the charisma of the presenter. In contrast, people who were face-to-face with the presenter were more likely to base their judgment of the presentation on the arguments that were used, the researchers said.

Carlos Ferran at Pennsylvania State University and Stephanie Watts at Boston University quizzed 44 medical professionals who took part in early morning medical seminars via business-quality video links, and 99 peers who were in the room with the presenters. The subjects were asked about how likely they would be to refer a patient to the speaker at the seminar, and how likable they felt he or she was, among other things.

In their study published in the September issue of the journal Management Science, the researchers hypothesize that a videoconference is mentally more challenging than a face-to-face meeting. That leaves less brainpower left over to process the content of the presentation. Cues we use in conversation, such as looking at people's gazes to figure out to whom they are talking, are harder to follow in a videoconference.


Howard Lichtman's Thoughts and Analysis

More ammunition for Telepresence.  Here is a study confirming that traditional videoconferencing increases cognitive load which effects perception.

I wrote about the impact of cognitive load on videoconferencing participants in my 2006 paper: Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light.  Specifically I wrote:

The Observant Videoconference Experience

In trying to replicate the experience of a face-to-face meeting, traditional videoconferencing fails the human brain's smell test (tiny remote participants, jerky motion, poor audio, limited body language visible, no eye contact, etc.). In my experience working with such systems and talking with psychologists, I believe that it also causes fatigue as the brain tries to process and adjust to two different experiences simultaneously:

• The Medium (i.e. the observant experience itself: the obvious TV set, the 8-inch tall remote participants, the visible camera, the delay, the poor audio quality, the unnatural format, etc)

• The Content (i.e. what is being said, the body language of the participants (if visible), etc.) The brain, consciously or unconsciously, objects to this conflict and, quite naturally, resists the experience. As a result, productivity and ROI suffer.

My supposition:  Getting the human factors right, hiding the equipment, and creating immersive environments reduces the cognitive load allows the brain to reduce its focus on the Medium and increase its focus on the Message.

Here is the abstract from Professors Ferran and Watt's study entitled: Videoconferencing in the Field: A Heuristic Processing Model :

This research uses dual-process cognitive theory to describe how people process information differently when it is delivered via videoconferencing rather than when it is delivered face-to-face. According to this theory, relative to face-to-face communication, people in videoconferences tend to be more influenced by heuristic cues - such as how likable they perceive the speaker to be - than by the quality of the arguments presented by the speaker. This is due to the higher cognitive demands that videoconferencing places on participants. We report on a field study of medical professionals in which we found differences in information processing as predicted: participants attending a seminar via videoconferencing were more influenced by the likability of the speaker than by the quality of the arguments presented, whereas the opposite pattern was true for participants attending in-person. We also found that differences in cognitive load explain these effects. The discussion on the theoretical model and associated findings explains why prior videoconferencing studies have not consistently found main effects for media. The findings also show that videoconferencing is not like face-to-face communication, despite apparent similarities.

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