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Study finds certain video call backdrops make you appear more competent, trustworthy

Living rooms and novelty backgrounds are out, bookcases and plants are in

It’s common knowledge that how you present yourself on a video conference influences how others perceive you. According to a new study, however, your background might carry more weight than you think.

Conducted by researchers from Durham University, the study had 167 people rate still images of men and women with both smiling and neutral faces based on how competent and trustworthy they seemed. The variable in these images was the background, with the same faces displayed in front of various backdrops, including blank white walls, rooms with bookcases, rooms with plants, a standard living room, a blurred background, and even novelty backgrounds.

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According to the study, faces in front of bookcases or plants received “significantly increased ratings of trust and competence.” Blank or blurred backgrounds received middle-of-the-road ratings, while backgrounds displaying living rooms or novelty images scored the lowest. Female and smiling faces were generally perceived as more competent and trustworthy, while male faces in front of living rooms, blank walls, and novelty backgrounds were received significantly lower marks than their female counterparts. The complete study has been published in the journal PLOS One.

“Our research shows that there are small tweaks you can make to help make a good virtual first impression: put some plants behind you, or turn your desk so you’re framed by a bookcase,” writes study co-author Paddy Ross. “As our findings show, if you don’t have much control over your background, smiling can help. There are also AI tools which allow you to virtually ‘tidy up’ or add a little sparkle to your background space.”





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