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Image contains three people pictured against three backgrounds, including a man with a background of books, a woman with a background of house plants and a man with a background of a walrus

A new study by psychologists at Durham has found the answers to creating the best first impression in a virtual meeting, such as Teams or Zoom, is a visual background of house plants and books.

Virtual first impressions

In this latest research, Associate Professor Paddy Ross and colleagues from our Department of Psychology, investigated what is really contributing to best, and worst, first impressions in a virtual environment.

The study assessed the views of more than 160 individuals, who were asked to evaluate a selection of images of people against a variety of virtual backgrounds and with a mix of neutral and happy facial expressions.

The importance of backgrounds

The research found a background of books and/or plants significantly contributed towards creating a trusting and competent first impression.

While on the contrary, comedic or living room backgrounds consistently scored the lowest.

The study also discovered that gender is having an impact, with women consistently appearing more trustworthy and competent than men regardless of the kind of virtual background.

Additionally, a smiley, happy demeanour was found to be an extra ingredient that can help towards creating a trusting and competent impression.

Practical tips for virtual introductions

The findings offer practical tips for anyone preparing for a virtual audience, such as an online job interview or business meeting, and especially as many more people work from home and use virtual platforms on a daily basis.

Find out more

  • Learn more about Dr Paddy Ross, Associate Professor at Durham’s Department of Psychology
  • Read the research paper here

Our Department of Psychology prides itself on being a collegiate and welcoming department, committed to success for all who work here. Through dedicated teaching sessions, an optional placement module, external speakers and even an employability retreat – we actively prepare students for working life. 

We are proud to be ranked in the Top 10 Psychology departments in the UK by The Complete University Guide 2022 and in the World Top 100 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023.   

Feeling inspired? Visit our Psychology webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. 

Durham University is a top 100 world university. In the QS World University Rankings 2024, we were ranked 78th globally.