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  • Writer's pictureJareef Martuza

One cause and one effect of social appearance anxiety

Written by Jareef Martuza, Ph.D. Candidate at NHH 

Image by QClay at

Although many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have receded, the increased video conferencing through Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams has become part of the “new normal”. Then, if something becomes pervasive in our lives, it calls us, marketers, to study how that can affect consumption decisions.


Li Huang (Hofstra University) and Laura Pricer (University of North Georgia) both in the United States, ask this question in their paper “How video conferencing promotes preferences for self-enhancement products” recently published in IJRM (Volume 41, Issue 1, Pages 93-112). On a spring afternoon Zoom call, I had the opportunity to discuss this research.


Decisions after video conferencing

Although the pros and cons of video conferencing attract several debates, what happens after people log off is less clear.

“Research that combines seemingly unconnected things, and is consequential in the real world has always interested me.”

-Li Huang

During the height of the COVID pandemic, Huang noticed students' reluctance to activate their cameras in online classes. While video conferencing enhances communication and collaboration across geographical and time zones, people are also seemingly averse to it. Why? What happens if they do turn on their camera? Teaming up with Laura Pricer, then completing her PhD with Professor Priyali Rajgopal(also Huang’s advisor during her PhD), they set out to test whether people behaved any differently after video conferencing.   


Across six studies, Huang and Pricer found that the simple act of video conferencing can increase interest in self-enhancement products- from gym memberships to beauty products, and even education apps. In Study 1, involving an eye-tracking experiment, participants in a Zoom call were more likely to be fixated on self-enhanced apps (relative to regular apps) than those who did not participate in the Zoom call.


“We were fortunate to have access to an advanced behavioral lab at Frank. G. Zarb School of Business. Using eye tracking, facial analysis, and voice analysis gave us unfiltered insight into people’s thoughts, enabling us to track things that may well be beyond the subject’s awareness."

-Li Huang


In the incentivize-compatible Study 2, experimental subjects indicated their maximum willingness to pay for a chosen self-enhancing product using the $25 they received from participating. Additionally, they indicated their interest in several upcoming Zoom features. Participants were willing to pay significantly more for self-enhancement products and showed greater interest in self-enhancement features (for example face touch-up and eLearning), but not for regular features (for example phone calling) both after a live and imaginary Zoom call.


Social appearance anxiety

Moving beyond the anxiety from within-“mirror anxiety”- the anxiety individuals feel when they see their own reflection in a mirror, Huang and Pricer proposed the notion of “social appearance anxiety”- the kind that's driven by social perception— as a novel explanation of the effect. Social appearance anxiety refers to the concern about being judged negatively by others based on their physical appearance in social situations. In this context, the authors suggest that participating in a video call can trigger social appearance anxiety, creating a need for self-enhancement, which may be satiated through consumption.


What to do about it?

Powerful findings, but what can individuals do to reduce the effects of video conferencing on subsequent decisions? Coincidentally, one of the reviewers for Haung and Pricer’s paper suggested using ring lights to alleviate social media anxiety. The idea was that if people can feel more positive about their appearance to others, they may feel less social appearance anxiety. Indeed, improving physical appearance, through the use of ring lights, mitigated the impact of Zoom calls on subsequent decisions. Serendipitously, this intervention was suggested by one of the reviewers for the paper. Should I go buy ring lights myself?


Read the paper

Interested in learning more about video conferencing and its effects? Click here for the full paper!



Huang, L., & Pricer, L. (2024). How video conferencing promotes preferences for self-enhancement products. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 41(1), 93–112.



Meet Li Huang

Assistant Professor of Marketing at Hofstra University


In video calls/meetings, when are you a camera-off versus camera-on person?

Definitely a camera-on person. There is something about seeing the faces of those you interact with. I would find it strange to be on a video call but have cameras off. 


If you were not a researcher, what would you be?

I’d follow in my family's footsteps in fashion. My grandfather and father were tailors. I like to be creatively engaged in the things I do. Other alternatives may be in broadcasting- I actually got asked once to be a TV reporter.


What’s the best and worst piece of advice you have received?

Remember the importance of seeing a project through to completion. First complete the project the best you can, worry about publication later. Don’t give up halfway as it leads to lots of incomplete papers. Consistency is important in research. As for the worst advice? That would be chasing hot topics for the sake of publication—research needs to be driven by passion, not just trends.


If you could time travel, what advice would you give to your PhD self?

I’ll tell myself to be bold, not afraid of asking for help, and never hesitate to reach out to famous scholars. They are more approachable than you may think. Don’t feel too overwhelmed, proactively introduce yourself as a starting point. Lots of great scholars are also great people one can talk to.


This article was written by

Jareef Bin Martuza

Ph.D. Candidate at the Norwegian School of Economics

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