Study suggests women view their own image more than men on Zoom


Chris Montgomery/Unsplash

Joey F. George and his team conducted research that tracks participants’ eye movements during virtual meetings. 

Katelyn Squiers

During virtual meetings, women look at themselves more than men, and people look offscreen more than on-screen in smaller interactive sessions, new research suggests. 

Joey F. George, John D. DeVries endowed chair in business and distinguished professor in business, led an eye-tracking study that analyzed where 10 participants directed their gaze during staged online meetings. George proposed the study in March 2021 and conducted it with his team in May 2021. 

The results revealed that women look at their own image more than men. George said these results were not surprising. 

“There’s been research that has shown that in situations like this where your face is always there, women tend to look at themselves more than men,” George said. 

Another result of the study was that participants looked offscreen one-third of the time when placed in a smaller, more interactive meeting. During a larger meeting with over 20 people, participants only looked offscreen about 10 percent of the time. 

“We don’t know, but our guess is just that there’s more going on when there’s 20 plus people,” George said. “Plus, whoever starts talking, their picture might actually float around to the middle of the maybe that was just more entertaining.” 

The results of the study could potentially influence the future design of virtual meeting platforms for details like the size of each person’s image and the amount of visual stimulation. 

“It’s up to the designers, but I think that maybe there’s some ideas here that they could use to improve [virtual meetings], or make some adjustments to make the process a little better,” George said. 

George and his team gathered their results with eye-tracking technology that bounced infrared light off people’s eyes into a bar of sensors located on a computer monitor. 

“It’s really unobtrusive, because it’s just a bar of sensors positioned below a monitor,” George said. “I wouldn’t say it’s natural, because you’re sitting in a specific room sitting in a barber chair, but it’s not something that you really notice.” 

With the eye tracker set up, the 10 participants individually engaged in two staged meetings.

The first meeting lasted around 15 minutes and was live. It included a blank screen displaying a gender-neutral name, three members of the research team and the participant. During the meeting, one person ate and drank, and another person shifted their desk, so their background looked different. 

“People really did notice when [somebody] was eating, but on average they only looked at it for about three seconds,” George said, “And they only looked at the change in background for five seconds. By and large, people were really being good and really paying attention.”

In the second meeting, participants watched a 10-minute video of a city council meeting recorded on Zoom. This meeting included over 20 people. 

“This was a really small study, and it was more of a discovery kind of study,” George said. “We just wanted to see how it worked and see if we could actually set this up and capture somebody’s eye movements.” 

George and his team presented their findings virtually at the 2022 Hawaii International Conference on Information Systems. They intend to further analyze their data and conduct more research in the future. 

“The next thing would be to figure out more of the stuff that’s there that we just haven’t had a chance to really analyze and get this published in a journal,” George said. “After that, you know, maybe we could figure out a way to do a larger live meeting.” 

Additional contributors to the study include Misty Nabors, a doctoral student at Mississippi State University (MSU), MSU professor Kent Marrett and Wichita State University professor Akmal Mirsadikov.