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Online meetings: Choosing the right background could influence first impressions

Online meetings: Choosing the right background could influence first impressions

Online meetings can encourage comparison between colleagues. — ETX Studio pic

PARIS, Sept 30 — When it comes to videoconferencing, some people are happy to share their home decor without filters or blurring, while others use backdrops to prevent anyone being tempted to analyse their interiors.

However, caution should be urged, because UK academics have discovered that the background you choose could influence the image your coworkers have of you.

Researchers at Durham University have found that certain background images can give a more trustworthy and competent impression than others.

They asked 167 volunteers to give their opinion on a selection of images showing men and women, with neutral or happy facial expressions, in front of several backgrounds.

The backgrounds were either novelty, plain (coloured background) or realistic (a photo of a living space, bookshelves or plants). The pictures shown to the study participants gave the impression that they had been taken during an online meeting.

This is an important detail. Remote meetings encourage comparison between colleagues, as the faces of the participants are displayed side by side.

We may be tempted to focus on certain details, such as physical appearance, dress or the surrounding environment, instead of paying attention to the points raised during the meeting.

This is natural behaviour, but it can be counterproductive in the long term.

Especially if these kinds of factors, such as the background chosen by a colleague, end up influencing assessments of professional worth.

Assistant professor of psychology at Durham University, Dr Paddy Ross, and colleagues, asked the study participants to say how competent and trustworthy they perceived each face to be.

They found that study participants had a better first impression of people pictured in front of a background depicting a bookcase or plants than those in front of a more eccentric background.

They were also more critical of those pictured in front of a living space, whether blurred or not.

The scientists also observed contrasting reactions depending on the gender of the models photographed in front of the different backgrounds, as they explain in a paper, published in the journal, PLOS One.

Women were, on the whole, judged to be more trustworthy and competent than men, regardless of the background in front of which they appeared.

Smiling is also an important factor to consider, since smiling faces made a better impression than others in the context of a professional conference call.

All of which are things to keep in mind for your next Zoom meeting. — ETX Studio