The Effects of Communication Cues on Group Decision Making in Online Conferences
Authors: Tingshu Chen, Ren-Ke He
Abstract: Online conferencing has become one of the most common tools we use in our lives and at work today. As a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, social mobility was limited, and people around the world had to use computer-mediated communication to connect and collaborate remotely instead of face-to-face interaction. The outbreak led to a surge in the use of online meetings, which are still actively used by a large number of people. However, prolonged or excessive use of online meetings can cause some negative feelings, a phenomenon known as "Zoom Fatigue." The lack of communication cues in online meetings compared to face-to-face interactions can lead to undesirable experiences such as easy distraction or low engagement. Previous research has found that the root causes of zoom fatigue include a lack of non-verbal cues such as spatial voice, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. It is unclear to what extent these cues influence participants' experiences of social interactions in meetings and the relationship between them. We designed a between-group study to compare the performance and experience of different interaction conditions with different communication cues on meeting teamwork. The communication cues we focused on were spatialized voice (SV), eye contact (EC), facial emotions (FE), and body language (BL). By reducing communication cues, we designed five interaction conditions, namely: an online meeting A1 (no SV), normal face-to-face A2, face-to-face with a mask A3 (no FE), face-to-face with a hidden head A4 (no FE and EC), and face-to-face with a hidden whole body A5 (no FE, EC, and BL). Using the hidden profile paradigm, we set up a fictitious personnel selection case to test group decision-making and investigated whether communication cues made a difference to the cognitive load and social presence in the meeting. In groups of four, we tested 20 participants in different interaction conditions and observed and recorded their behavioral performance. For all participants, we collected their demographic information as well as online meeting usage. To assess the experience of social interactions in meetings, we recorded task completion times and used the Networked Mind Measure of Social Presence Questionnaire (SPQ), the NASA Task Load Index Questionnaire (NASA-TLX), and the System Usability Scale (SUS). Our results found a decrease in task completion time after integrating eye contact. For social presence, spatial voice and facial expressions led to a significant increase. Eye contact and gestures increased attention but decreased perceived information comprehension. Eye contact had no significant effect on joint presence, while gestures enhanced joint presence. For cognitive load, eye contact and facial expressions make it lower, while other cues enhance it. The integration of gestures substantially enhances the usability of social interactions in meetings. In summary, our findings suggest that spatial voice significantly enhances social connection with others in meetings; facial expressions and eye contact help improve the understanding of interactions; and gestures improve the perception of social interactions. The way communication cues are presented in future virtual environments and remote collaboration will determine whether the feeling of real-life face-to-face interactions can be met or exceeded.
Keywords: Online conferences, communication cues, Zoom fatigue, Cognitive load, Social presence, Group decision making
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