One Beat Off On Zoom

Do you ever find yourself just slightly off in your conversational rhythm on video chat?

Even just one-on-one with people you know well? In person, you’re back and forth with ease – mellow in casual chat, more rat-tat-tat when the topic is exciting. Yet, shift to video and you feel like you’re jumping in too quickly, or pausing too long. Even the most socially sensitive communicators can find themselves thrown off. What is that?



In June of this year, Dr. Julie Boland – a Professor Psychology and Linguistics at the University of Michigan – led a research team who looked at just this issue.

‘Zoom disrupts the rhythm of conversation’ is the title of their 2022 Journal of Experimental Psychology research article. Boland and her team found that: ‘Small, variable transmission delays over Zoom disrupt the typical rhythm of conversation, leading to delays in turn initiation.’

How do such tiny delays –  even just 30 to 70 milliseconds – have a noticeable impact?

Look to quick-draw, neural oscillators in our brains which normally help us with the complex give and take of conversation. In face to face conversations, the time to transition between speakers averages 200 milliseconds. Inevitable internet traffic and lag throws that timing off in video chat.

As Boland says: “Oscillators can tolerate a certain amount of deviation (in syllable rate), without de-syncing, which is necessary to handle the fuzzy rhythms of speech. However, the variable electronic transmission delays in videoconferencing are probably sufficient to destabilize these oscillators.”

Without these oscillators allowing us to glide along in autopilot, conversations can just



Header Photo: Pixabay



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton