During a video call do you stare at yourself? I’m prepared to bet you do, even if your eyes just wander over occasionally to the image of your face.
Are we just vain? And where did that vanity come from? Aarron Toal of Durham University attempts to explain. And it’s not just vanity. It’s much more important than that.
Since the lockdown we’ve all had the opportunity to see our faces, sometimes more than once a day.
Others who conduct business meetings on Zoom, Skype or Teams could be staring at their own face for hours on end, something that’s never happened to us before.
If you also do your socialising on FaceTime or similar, video conferencing almost becomes a way of life and we have numerous opportunities to look at ourselves.
And we seem to like it.
Turns out we’ve evolved to instinctively pick up information about ourselves.
This focus may help us survive. It allows the brain to filter out what doesn’t matter and focus on what does. Think about being able to listen to one conversation in a very loud and busy room. That’s attention. In cave man days that attention might have saved us from a sabre-toothed tiger!
But we can also tune in to visual and sound cues in the same way. It’s astonishing. Our sensory memory sorts out different stimuli into different categories, and will focus on the ones that are most relevant to us.
When we steal a glance at ourselves, we’re tuning in to catch a glimpse of the image that means most to us.
What’s so fascinating is that video calls let us look not just at ourselves but to make comparisons to others. In real-time we can size up the way we talk, the way we look, our expressions.
We can check we’re looking our best, we’re using appropriate body language and facial expressions. It’s the reassurance of instant feedback that’s so addictive.
We all crave acceptance and this craving may lead you to unintentionally exaggerate body or facial expressions in a bid for acceptance. Being accepted promotes our self-esteem – and we need it.
Part of being accepted is to look our best. In a video call we compare ourselves to others and smarten up.
Friends or colleagues fill the tiles on our screens so we have the perfect opportunity to compare.
Believe it or not this instinct has evolutionary significance too. We’re sizing up our “competitors” hoping we’ll emerge feeling superior.