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This is why some of your colleagues can’t stop speaking loudly during videoconferences

Do your colleagues sometimes gesture wildly during a videoconference? — Unsplash pic

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PARIS, April 16 — Researchers have tried to figure out why some people suddenly start talking loudly or moving around in the middle of a video meeting. The good news is that this “problem” can be easily resolved … as long as you have a good internet connection!

With videoconferencing becoming a very regular feature of worklife since the arrival of covid-19, you may have noticed some of your colleagues start talking very loudly and/or gesturing wildly, for no apparent reason during these events. But think again: there may be an explanation for this distracting behaviour that many of us find difficult to tolerate.

A new study by cognitive scientists in the Netherlands has investigated this curious and likely very common phenomenon. And what they found is that such behaviour isn’t inexplicable at all; the reason for these sudden outbursts behind the computer screen turns out to be quite simple: the more the video quality of an online meeting deteriorates, the louder a participant starts talking to ‘compensate.’

When conversing over Zoom or Skype, we use some of the same tactics to make ourselves heard as we use in the real world, first author of the study James Trujillo outlined. “If you’re talking to someone in a busy area with a lot of background noise, you typically use gestures to support your speech, and you start talking louder.”

To reach these conclusions, they organised video calls with about 40 participants. The volunteers sat in separate rooms and were asked to have an informal conversation for 40 minutes. During the call, the quality of the video gradually deteriorated, until the image became “extremely blurry.” The researchers carefully analysed how the participants spoke and moved throughout the call.

“Even when the image can barely be seen, people don’t suddenly stop gesturing. It’s similar to how people talk to each other on the phone: we don’t see each other, and during an involved conversation we still move and gesticulate,” observed Trujillo.

This research aims to demonstrate the close, reciprocal link between gestures and speech, an essential axis of study in the language sciences, particularly the communicative aspect. “Further research into speech should not just look at factors like loudness and tone of voice, but also include these gestures to get a proper sense of people’s behaviour,” stated Trujillo.

In the meantime, if some of your colleagues seem a bit overly demonstrative perhaps ask them to check the quality of their internet connection? — ETX Studio

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