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Why don’t we like videos of ourselves?

When applicants use our video interview app, the feedback we hear most often is about how weirded out they are about seeing themselves on video. We wondered, what causes this discomfort, and what can be done to help it?

We have all been tagged in Facebook photos we barely recognize ourselves in. Which sounds weird, on principle: if anyone should know our faces, it’s ourselves. This feeling of “is this what I really look like?” is only stronger once we see ourselves moving on video. Why are we so shocked about our own visual impression?

The answer, according to science, is mirrors. Robert Zajonc has written about the mere-exposure effect already back in 1968 — this is the often-tested principle that we react more favorably to things we see more often. (If you think about it, this cognitive laziness is very typical of humans: we prefer songs that remind us of other songs, and most of us have a hard time adapting to change — our brain is trying to save energy with this!) This is true not just in every culture, but even for other species.

You, yourself, see your face most often in mirrors (this might be changing with the selfie-generation, but more on that later). Our mirror-image becomes our favored self-image: it’s not what most people see, because, obviously, in mirrors, we see the two sides of our faces switched. This causes the minor facial asymmetries seem lesser. However, as these asymmetries are not switched when you see yourself on camera, you see a strange version of yourself. Basically, when you see a photo of yourself, your brain gets confused.

The good news is that the only person who thinks you are more attractive in the mirror than on photographs is yourself. Theodore H. Mita and Marshall Dermer studied the mere-hypothesis effect in 1977, and concluded that if a photograph corresponds to the mirror image, everyone but the subject of the photograph will find it creepy.

It will be interesting to see how all this will change with the selfie-taking habits of Generation Z. According to a 2015 study from Boston, the average millennial will take over 25,000 photos of themselves during their lifetime. Soon, for the smartphone-owning generation, the face they recognize the easiest might not be the one they see in the mirror, but the one they put on Instagram.

When we see ourselves on video, the effect might even be stranger. In real life, we are simply not aware of our mimics or gestures: studies on recognizing our own movements without seeing our bodies were actually non-conclusive — the recognition rates of our movements were “hardly above chance”. While we see on camera how we act, our brains have to deal not only with the mere-exposure effect, but the strange new reality of what our movements look like. It’s a lot of work for our poor brains, especially if you are making a video-interview, when you also have to concentrate on fitting your clever answers into a limited time.

📷This is Shia Labeouf watching himself on the big screen. Even he gets frustrated, though he should be more used to seeing himself on video than you are. Source:

This is Shia Labeouf watching himself on the big screen. Even he gets frustrated, though he should be more used to seeing himself on video than you are. Source:

The best advice for participating in a video interview is then the following:

  • practice some intros in front of your webcam — or, if you want to experience how a video interview would work, we actually put together some sample questions for you to practice within our app. Now you know that you find your own photos odd because of mere-exposure, you know how to turn that to your advantage: start getting used to your own image on video. It’s easier than you think it is (we promise!). Look at that video with an honest friend, and ask them about how you think they did.

  • your gestures might seem too large for the video frame. But don’t worry. the person who will watch your answers will be aware of the fact that this is only because of the ratio, and that you are not really waving your hands about.

  • just know that you are more attractive for others, than you are for yourself at that very moment. (Only you have a pre-conceived mirror-image of yourself stuck in your head!)

  • prepare with some ready-made answers. While every interview is different, most places will ask you to talk about yourself, your hobbies, your career, how you solved some difficulties at a workplace. If you know you have answers to these questions, you are much less likely to freeze mid-interview.

  • stop focusing on the negatives. Your first urge is to look at what can be improved: look at what you are already good at.

  • don’t worry about your voice. The voice you hear when you are talking will be different from what you hear when you are recorded: it’s simply because in your head, your voice resonates through your skin and bones. It’ll be some cognitive dissonance when you hear yourself, as it won’t be what you know you sound like, but for others, it will sound perfectly alright.


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