What your Zoom background reveals: Psychologists

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It’s important to conduct “background checks” on new employees — but a new study takes it to a whole other level.

Do you have plants in the background during your work-from-home video conference? It indicates that you are more trustworthy. At least that’s according to a new study published in the journal One pluswhich analyzed how Zoom backgrounds can impact first impressions.

People who sit in front of houseplants or bookcases are viewed as the most trustworthy, according to the researchers, while those who use cheesy novelty backgrounds like beaches or animals are viewed as the least trustworthy.

“With video conferencing, most of what everyone sees — the majority of your screen — is taken up by your background,” said study co-author Paddy Ross, an associate professor of psychology at Durham University in the UK. He told New Scientist magazine. “So you no longer have to worry only about your appearance and how you present yourself to others, but also about your surroundings.”

This is especially crucial in the post-pandemic era, where hybrid work schedules mean that meetings are increasingly being held via digital platforms.

Paddy Ross and his colleagues collected 72 photographs of 36 white adults, including 18 men and 18 women who were either smiling or had neutral expressions, taken from the researchers’ database of images of human faces.
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People who sit in front of houseplants or bookcases are seen as the most trustworthy, while those who use novel backgrounds such as beaches or animals are seen as the least competent.
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To determine what certain backgrounds say about Zoom users, Ross and his colleagues collected 72 photos of 36 white adults from a pool of people. A summary of images of human faces collected for researchers.

Participants were divided equally into 18 men and 18 women who were either smiling or showing neutral expressions.

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Next, the researchers overlaid the faces on six different backgrounds — a living room, a blurred living room, a bookcase, a closet lined with potted plants, a blank wall, and a walrus in front of an iceberg — and framed each to resemble the scene during a typical Zoom call.

Smiling faces were considered more trustworthy and competent.
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The walrus background pic gave the worst impression.
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Finally, the scientists asked 167 participants to rate people on how trustworthy and competent they were on a scale of 1 to 7.

The faces that were viewed favorably according to these categories were those with plants and bookshelves in the background, while those that were viewed less favorably were those placed opposite the living room and the walrus.

Meanwhile, the inconspicuous living room and blank wall were rated somewhere in between on the first impression scale.

In general, women were viewed as more trustworthy than men.
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Average proficiency scores across all six backgrounds broken down by gender.
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In terms of expression, smiling faces were considered more competent and trustworthy than neutral faces, which Ross attributed to the fact that smiling is considered synonymous with self-confidence.

Women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly gave better first impressions, although Ross says more research is needed to shed light on this gender digital divide.

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