Facial Appearance Dissatisfaction Explains Differences in Zoom Fatigue

Ratan, R., Miller, D. B., & Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Facial Appearance Dissatisfaction Explains Differences in Zoom Fatigue. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. doi:


Viewing self-video during videoconferences potentially causes negative self-focused attention that contributes to virtual meeting (VM) or “Zoom” fatigue. The present research examines this proposition, focusing on facial dissatisfaction—feeling unhappy about one’s own facial appearance—as a potential psychological mechanism of VM fatigue. A study of survey responses from a panel of 613 adults found that VM fatigue was 14.9 percent higher for women than for men, and 11.1 percent higher for Asian than for White participants. These gender and race/ethnicity differences were found to be mediated by facial dissatisfaction. This study replicates earlier VM fatigue research, extends the theoretical understanding of facial dissatisfaction as a psychological mechanism of VM fatigue, and suggests that practical approaches to mitigating VM fatigue could include implementing technological features that reduce self-focused attention during VMs (e.g., employing avatars).

Given the prevalence of remote work both during and likely beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand and address the exhaustion that occurs after long periods of videoconferences, referred to as “Zoom fatigue,” videoconferencing fatigue, or virtual meeting (VM) fatigue. VM fatigue has been identified as a detriment to worker well-being and productivity and is theorized to result from multiple factors, including increased cognitive load due to prolonged gaze from others, the apparent closeness of others, and reduced mobility; unmet expectations regarding synchrony and nonverbal cues; and the loss of a sense of place, lessened scaffolding and supervision, and reduced dynamic and nonconscious distribution of work among teammates. This study builds on research suggesting that viewing self-video causes mirror anxiety—negative self-focused attention—which is psychologically taxing and contributes to VM fatigue. Supporting this reasoning and highlighting the importance of this topic, a 4-week field experiment found that VM fatigue was higher for participants randomly assigned to keep their cameras on (compared with off) during VMs and that VM fatigue fully mediated a negative effect of camera condition on worker voice and engagement during meetings. We extend this line of inquiry to examine one factor that potentially explains why some people experience mirror anxiety and thus VM fatigue: facial appearance dissatisfaction (or simply facial dissatisfaction). For individuals with higher levels of facial dissatisfaction, viewing self-video likely causes more negative self-focused attention and thereby increases VM fatigue.

There is evidence that increases in videoconferencing use during the COVID-19 pandemic were associated with greater appearance dissatisfaction, especially facial dissatisfaction, as VM systems usually display faces prominently. Cosmetic surgeons and dentists reported receiving a higher number of requests from people interested in improving their appearance because of the time they were spending in videoconferencing. Furthermore, studies have found that viewing self-video contributes to facial dissatisfaction, especially when individuals feel self-objectified. These patterns suggest that facial dissatisfaction is a manifestation of psychological distress that contributes to VM fatigue.

This study examines facial dissatisfaction as a facet of negative self-focused attention that may help explain differences in VM fatigue between social groups. Many cultures promote gendered beauty norms and “whiteness” that pressure women and people of color (POC) to conform with these norms in their appearance, especially in the workplace. These pressures on women and POC potentially contribute to higher levels of facial dissatisfaction, which when activated by prolonged viewing of self-video may then lead to VM fatigue. One survey-based study found that women report more VM fatigue than men, that differences in mirror anxiety mediate this gender difference, and that Whites experience less VM fatigue than people of other races (although with a small effect size). Similarly, a field experiment found that the increase in VM fatigue induced by having the VM camera on (compared with off) was higher for women than for men, as well as for lower tenure workers, supporting the reasoning that social group differences in negative self-focused attention are responsible for VM fatigue.

Extending these previous studies, this research aims to replicate previous findings of gender and race/ethnicity differences in VM fatigue, while also considering facial dissatisfaction as a mediator of these differences (e.g., a path from gender to facial dissatisfaction to VM fatigue). Hence, we hypothesize the following:

H1: VM fatigue is higher for women than for men.

H2: VM fatigue differs by race/ethnicity and, specifically, is lower for people who identify as White than who identify as (a) Black/African American, (b) Latino/Hispanic, and (c) Asian.

H3: VM fatigue is positively associated with facial dissatisfaction.

H4: The effects of gender and race on VM fatigue are mediated by facial dissatisfaction.