Not Everyone Hates Seeing Themselves on Zoom, Study Shows

pregnant asian woman talks on a zoom call

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • One contributor to rampant Zoom fatigue is thought to be the self-view feature of virtual meetings.
  • But a recent study found that people less publicly self-conscious enjoyed meetings more if their faces were visible.
  • Viewing yourself through a less critical lens could improve your experience.

By now, we're used to hearing about (and dealing with) Zoom fatigue. And one of the simplest ways suggested to combat it is by hiding the "self-view" feature. If greater Zoom use has lead to increased levels of exhaustion and anxiety, and research has shown that seeing yourself in a mirror can increase self-evaluation and negative affect, it would make sense that less self-viewing might make virtual meetings more bearable.

Despite this, a recent study found that some people are unfazed by "the constant mirror effect." In fact, the research suggests certain people enjoy virtual meetings more because they can see themselves.

The Research

Researchers studied participants from two groups, employees and students that attended regular virtual meetings, and found that their attitudes toward self-view depended on their level of public self-consciousness.

The findings, published in Computers in Human Behavior, showed that less publicly self-conscious participants were more likely to have positive attitudes toward their virtual meetings the more often they could see their own faces. For participants that reported high levels of public self-consciousness, seeing themselves during meetings was associated with worse attitudes.

Kristine Kuhn, PhD

At the start of the pandemic, I really disliked self-view during meetings. My colleagues also had very different opinions about requiring students to have cameras on during classes.

— Kristine Kuhn, PhD

Study author Kristine Kuhn, PhD, wasn't a fan of self-view and wanted to explore others' experiences with the feature.

"At the start of the pandemic, I really disliked self-view during meetings," Kuhn says. "My colleagues also had very different opinions about requiring students to have cameras on during classes."

Participants completed surveys on their views toward virtual meetings and levels of self-consciousness, rating their relation to statements like "I care a lot about how I present myself to others" and "I'm usually aware of my appearance." Those with high ratings on the self-consciousness scale also disliked virtual meetings the more often their face was visible.

For both students and employees, the study reveals there's no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to camera use during virtual meetings.

"The effect of self-view depends on an individual trait," Kuhn says. "For outcome measures other than attitudes, such as learning or decision quality, there may well be trade-offs between practices that improve those outcomes and practices that make people more comfortable."

How Mirrors Affect Behavior

It's safe to say the presence of a mirror can impact a person's behavior in myriad ways. You may become aware of this when you catch a glimpse of yourself and correct your posture or make a certain face.

As a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist, much of Katherine Metzelaar's work revolves around eating disorders and the body image challenges that come from negative self-perception. Metzelaar, founder of Bravespace Nutrition, says a mirror in close proximity can sometimes produce negative effects.

"It reinforces both body checking behaviors and heightens self-objectification," Metzelaar says. "People with lots of mirrors around them or that have frequent exposure to mirrors tend to have poor self-image and increase anxiety around their body and face."

Katherine Metzelaar, MSN, RDN, CD

I find that no matter one's personality traits they are affected by what this culture tells us our faces and bodies are 'supposed' to look like.

— Katherine Metzelaar, MSN, RDN, CD

In her own practice, Metzelaar has seen an increase in self-loathing among patients who've had to interact over Zoom during the pandemic. During virtual sessions, she makes sure to show patients how to turn off self-view.

"I joke with my patients that they wouldn't come to session with a mirror behind me or right in front of them, so why would they do that now?" Metzelaar says.

But self-perception has proven to affect people in other surprisingly positive ways, as well. Studies have found that, in the presence of a mirror, high school students were less likely to cheat on assignments, children were less likely to lie or steal and individuals were less likely to judge others based on stereotypes around sex, race or religion.

So, if mirrors can positively affect our behavior, why are they so often menacing when it comes to self-image and mental health? This can be blamed on the unattainable beauty and body standards upheld in society, Metzelaar says.

"I find that no matter one's personality traits, they are affected by what this culture tells us our faces and bodies are 'supposed' to look like," she says. "I will add that individuals that hold themselves to high standards and have perfectionistic tendencies tend to be increasingly vulnerable to poor body image, self-image."

While the solution to this issue requires a major social shift—one, it's safe to say, that's already begun, another potential remedy involves using the mirror as a tool for healing. For example, research has also shown that affirmations spoken while in front of a mirror elicited higher levels of soothing positive emotions than ones simply spoken aloud.

Similarly, Tara Well, PhD, a professor of psychology at Barnard College, has been conducting research on mirror meditation, a method she says can reduce stress and increase self-compassion. This type of meditation involves a participant gazing at their own reflection for at least 10-15 minutes while maintaining a calm, meditative state. Participants are invited to look at themselves with the intention of kindness in order to reduce anxiety and self-criticism.

For most people, your self-image is inherently linked to your sense of self. Whether you're seeing yourself on your computer screen or in your bathroom mirror, treating yourself with kindness could improve not only your virtual workday but potentially your life.

What This Means For You

While you probably shouldn't recite affirmations to your reflection during your next Zoom meeting, viewing yourself with a more compassionate, less critical eye can be a powerful act of self-care.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bailenson J. Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom fatigueTechnology, Mind, and Behavior. 2021;2(1). doi:10.1037/tmb0000030

  2. Kuhn K. The constant mirror: Self-view and attitudes to virtual meetingsComput Human Behav. 2022;128:107110. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2021.107110

  3. Medical Xpress. Not everybody hates looking at themselves on Zoom: study.

  4. Monasterial H, Alvarado J, Arganoza J, Dioneda A, Javier J. The effect of the presence of mirrors on the cheating behavior of high school students. ResearchGate. 2016. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.25792.17922

  5. Beaman A, Klentz B, Diener E, Svanum S. Self-awareness and transgression in children: Two field studiesJ Pers Soc Psychol. 1979;37(10):1835-1846. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.37.10.1835

  6. New York Times. Mirrors don't lie. Mislead? Oh, yes.

  7. Petrocchi N, Ottaviani C, Couyoumdjian A. Compassion at the mirror: Exposure to a mirror increases the efficacy of a self-compassion manipulation in enhancing soothing positive affect and heart rate variabilityJ Posit Psychol. 2017;12(6):525-536. doi:10.1080/17439760.2016.1209544

  8. Well T. The Benefits of Mirror Meditation. Presentation presented at the 2016 American Psychological Association Convention in Denver, CO.