Study finds creative brainstorming suffers during video calls

A new study has indicated that using video calls to brainstorm can hurt creative idea generation.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong on
Female employee talk on video call with colleagues
Images: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Video calls are shown to reduce the production of creative ideas, compared to in-person meetings, a new study by researchers at Colombia University has found.

The study, published in Nature, involved randomly pairing 1,500 people over either a video call or in-person, and asking them to come up with new product ideas and choosing one to submit as a future product innovation.

The authors of the study, Melanie Brucks and Jonathan Levay, found that the experiment showed face-to-face pairs produced more ideas, and more creative ideas, compared to those who met virtually.

However, when it came to selecting which idea to put forward, both groups were equally effective, the results showed. The study pointed out that by using eye-tracking data, the authors found that virtual partners spent more time looking directly at each other, as opposed to gazing around the room.

According to the authors, the findings suggest that visual focus narrows when people use a computer, which in turn limits their cognitive focus.

"Departing from previous theories that focus on how oral and written technologies limit the synchronicity and extent of information exchanged, we find that our effects are driven by differences in the physical nature of videoconferencing and in-person interactions," the authors wrote.

"Specifically, using eye-gaze and recall measures, as well as latent semantic analysis, we demonstrate that videoconferencing hampers idea generation because it focuses communicators on a screen, which prompts a narrower cognitive focus."

The authors concluded, based on the results, that "virtual interaction comes with a cognitive cost for creative idea generation".

"Our results indicate that, in these hybrid setups, it might make sense to prioritise creative idea generation during in-person meetings," the study said, cautioning that the results have only documented the cognitive cost of virtual interactions but have not determined the extent to which a company should use virtual collaboration.

These findings are echoed in Read's latest quarterly benchmark study on the health of virtual meeting, which found that nearly a quarter of participants in a meeting felt disengaged, while another 15% of meetings had a negative sentiment. It also showed that there was a 37% increase in disengaged participants from the first quarter to the last quarter of meetings that ran for more than 50 minutes.

The study, conducted between January and March 2022, also reported that just over half of all meetings went over schedule by at least a minute, while 31% of meetings start late. 

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