Books and plants make you look good on Zoom, British research shows

FILED - It's not just your facial expressions that matter, but also your background, according to new research on Zoom meetings that shows plants and books beat a simple white wall for making good impressions. Photo: Catherine Waibel/dpa

LONDON: If you have a job interview coming up and it is scheduled to be conducted via video call, make sure to set the camera with plants and books showing in the background.

Participants in Zoom chats tend to "judge faces appearing against backgrounds featuring houseplants or bookcases as more trustworthy and competent than faces with a living space or a novelty image behind them," according to Durham University academics.

The Durham report involved getting 167 adults in Britain to view stills that appeared as if they were made in a videoconference.

The images were of a man or woman, either smiling or with a neutral expression, sat against a background featuring a "living space," a blurred living space, houseplants, a bookcase, a blank wall or a "novelty image" of a walrus on an iceberg.

The team said their work, though possibly culturally specific to Britain, reinforces the age-old view that initial impressions matter as much in video calling as in meetings.

"First impressions form instantly," they said. "Your background is a distinct non-verbal cue." The research was published in September in the journal PLOS One, where the team asserted that "gender and facial expression also appeared to influence judgments."

Grinning faces were perceived as more trustworthy than those in neutral, while smiling women were seen as more competent than their beaming male counterparts.

And being a woman even compensates for the trust deficit caused by a spare-looking backdrop: "Among female faces, those with the living-space background were perceived as no less trustworthy than those with houseplants or a bookcase, suggesting that the lower trustworthiness associated with the living-space background were primarily driven by male faces."

Video conferencing applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams saw a massive rise during Covid lockdowns, but remain popular as a way to reduce the need to travel and to retain some work-from-home routines. – dpa

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