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Understanding Neural Coding in Meetings: Live vs. Online

Meetings have always been a cornerstone of business interactions. But with the advent of technology and remote work, the dynamics have shifted from live to online. However, does our brain process these interactions differently? A recent study from Yale School of Medicine by Joy Hirsch, PhD, delves deep into this question.

A live meeting and an online meeting side by side, contrasting their neural activity differences inside a braind.


Neural Responses in Live vs. Online Interactions: A Deep Dive into the Yale Study

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the landscape of interpersonal communications. With social distancing mandates in place, the world pivoted to a new norm - webcam online communications. But do these virtual, "Zoom-like" interactions carry the same neural weight as their in-person counterparts? A groundbreaking study from the Yale School of Medicine sheds light on this timely question.

Why This Question Matters

The mass adoption of webcam online formats during the pandemic wasn't just a logistical shift; it set the stage for deeper questions about the nature of human interactions. How do our brains process live "in-person" versus live virtual "on-line" interactions, especially when the facial features remain consistent in both modes?

16:9 photo of a split-screen. On the left, an individual engages in a face-to-face conversation with someone, capturing the depth of human interaction. On the right, the same individuals are seen on computer screens in an online format, showcasing the virtual realm of interaction. Brain wave patterns are overlaid above each scene, with noticeable differences between the two, highlighting the neurological aspect of the discussion.

Challenges for Feature-Selective Models

Traditional feature-selective models, which rely on the consistency of facial and social cues, find it difficult to predict any differences in live face-encoding pathways. Both in-person and online formats present facial cues consistently, so where does the difference lie?

Revelatory Findings from the Study

Using a novel multimodal dyadic paradigm, the study unveiled some eye-opening differences:

  • Increased Neural Activity: There was a notable uptick in neural activity within the dorsal visual stream during live "in-person" interactions.

  • Enhanced Neural Coupling: Cross-brain coherence measures showed stronger neural coupling during in-person encounters.

  • Changes in Visual Sensing: Participants exhibited different visual sensing patterns between the two modes.

  • Arousal Variations: In-person interactions led to increased arousal, as indicated by the variations in pupil diameter.

  • Elevated Electro-Cortical Responses: There was an increase in responses within the theta band for in-person face presentations as opposed to online ones.

The Weight of Real Faces in Interactions

These findings drive home an essential point: real faces and natural stimuli play a crucial role in understanding live face processing and social interactions. Virtual "Zoom-like" platforms, despite their incredible utility, cannot fully replicate the nuanced neural reactions evoked by in-person interactions.

Future Opportunities

The disparities highlighted between live and virtual interactions aren't just academic findings. They present opportunities for developing dynamic systems to explore real-time interactions between humans and virtual partners. By understanding these behavioral and neural coupling mechanisms, we can potentially design more effective and engaging virtual interaction tools.

Summary of the Study

The world's rapid pivot to online interactions in the pandemic era poses intriguing questions about our neural responses. The Yale study provides a compelling narrative, suggesting that our brain perceives and processes in-person interactions differently, even when the visual cues remain constant. As we navigate this hybrid world of live and virtual encounters, such insights become invaluable, guiding our quest for more authentic and meaningful digital connections.

The Pros and Cons of Live vs. Online Meetings

In the ever-evolving landscape of communication, the debate between live "in-person" meetings and online interactions has garnered significant attention. While each mode has its merits, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Pros of "In-Person" Meetings:

  1. Enhanced Neural Engagement: As revealed by the Yale study, in-person interactions show an uptick in neural activity within the dorsal visual stream, indicating a deeper level of cognitive engagement.

  2. Richer Social Cues: Face-to-face interactions allow for the full spectrum of non-verbal communication, including body language, tone variations, and facial expressions.

  3. Stronger Neural Coupling: The cross-brain coherence during in-person encounters hints at a more synchronized and collaborative interaction between participants.

  4. Elevated Arousal Levels: The increased arousal, as indicated by variations in pupil diameter during face-to-face interactions, suggests a heightened level of attention and engagement.

Cons of "In-Person" Meetings:

  1. Logistical Challenges: Coordinating physical meetings can be cumbersome, especially when participants are spread across different locations.

  2. Increased Costs: Travel expenses, venue bookings, and other logistical arrangements can drive up costs.

  3. Time Constraints: Physical meetings can be more time-consuming, factoring in travel time, preparations, and potential delays.

Pros of Online Meetings:

  1. Flexibility and Convenience: Online platforms allow for meetings anytime, anywhere, as long as there's a stable internet connection.

  2. Cost-Efficient: Eliminating travel and venue costs can lead to significant savings.

  3. Inclusivity: Virtual platforms can accommodate a large number of participants, often more than physical venues.

Cons of Online Meetings:

  1. Reduced Neural Engagement: The Yale study indicates that online interactions might not engage our brains as deeply as in-person interactions.

  2. Limited Social Cues: Despite advancements in technology, online platforms can't fully capture the nuances of body language or the full range of vocal tones.

  3. Tech Glitches: Connectivity issues, software crashes, and other technical problems can disrupt the flow of online meetings.

  4. Zoom Fatigue: Prolonged virtual interactions can lead to a unique form of exhaustion known as "Zoom fatigue."

The Biggest Downsides of Online Meetings

While online meetings offer unparalleled convenience, especially in our current global landscape, they're not without their challenges. The most pronounced downside is the lack of deep neural engagement, as highlighted by the Yale study. Without the heightened neural activity and coupling found in in-person interactions, participants might not be as mentally present or invested in the meeting.

Additionally, the lack of full-spectrum social cues in online platforms can lead to misunderstandings or missed non-verbal signals. This can result in less effective communication and collaboration.

Lastly, the phenomenon of "Zoom fatigue" is a testament to the toll online interactions can have on participants. This fatigue is more than just tiredness; it's a combination of cognitive overload from staring at screens, the strain of decoding limited social cues, and the mental fatigue from continuous virtual engagement.

A Glimpse into the Future: Enhancing Online Interactions

As the world becomes more digitally connected, the need for effective and engaging online interactions will continue to grow. Learning from studies like the one from Yale, tech developers and behavioral scientists can collaborate to design platforms that aim to replicate the neural engagement of in-person meetings.

This could involve innovations in virtual reality, augmented reality, or even artificial intelligence. The goal would be to capture the richness of face-to-face interactions, from the nuanced body language to the synchrony of neural coupling, in a virtual setting. As technology evolves, the gap between live and online meetings may narrow, offering the best of both worlds.

Making Online Meetings More Efficient with Verbally

While the study highlights the significance of in-person meetings, it's not always feasible in today's global business landscape. That's where solutions like Verbally come into play. By providing tools such as a virtual meeting assistant and a speaker timer, Verbally makes online meetings more efficient. It's like having an assistant showing the timeboxed agenda and subtly signaling when someone might be dominating the conversation too much. This ensures a balanced interaction, making online meetings feel closer to the real in-person experience.

Verballys virtual meeting assistant in action.


The study by Joy Hirsch, PhD, has unveiled fascinating insights into how our brain responds to live versus online interactions. As businesses grapple with the challenge of making remote interactions more efficient, understanding these neural differences is paramount. Tools like Verbally can bridge the gap, ensuring that even in a virtual environment, we can come close to the genuine connection and engagement of face-to-face meetings.

If You Want to Dive Deeper into the Topic...

Interested in delving further into the art and science of effective meetings? Here are some related articles that can enhance your understanding:

  1. Mastering Asynchronous Meetings: Understand the next big wave in remote work collaboration with strategies, tools, and best practices. Read More

  2. Transform Your Meeting Culture: Discover 11 actionable steps that can revolutionize your meeting culture and foster productivity in your organization. Dive In

  3. Psychology Behind Effective Meetings: Unearth the psychological principles driving the success of meetings and how attention span, motivation, and information retention shape collaborations. Learn More

  4. Boosting Engagement in Meetings: Enhance engagement in your meetings with top strategies and see how tools like Verbally can be your game-changer. Check it Out

  5. Combatting Meeting Fatigue: Understand meeting fatigue and find effective alternatives for more engaging team collaboration. Explore Here

Trusted partners like Omio, Uber, and DiscoEat effectively utilizing Verbally, the virtual meeting assistant, to enhance their meeting productivity and efficiency.


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