This is why your lonely coworker may be looking at your face on Zoom calls

When it comes to connecting to someone socially, the secret is within our faces.

The difference between people who are lonely versus non-lonely individuals found that people who are deemed lonely pay more attention to facial expressions that resonate warmth, while those who are less lonely focused on features identified as competent, according to a new study.

Research published in the journal Frontier in Psychology investigated the effects of loneliness on automatic visual attention – or human faces – specifically focusing on warmth and competence facial information, which creates attraction, according to the study.

Researchers conducted the study on more than 40 college students through an eye-tracking course, where each participant was shown two house images – one at the top and one at the bottom – and they were asked if the images were identical. The study also included two face images in each round, which were placed at the left and right of the screen as distractors.

The faces were labeled as the following: warm and competent, warm but incompetent and but competent, and cold, and incompetent. In total, 80 trials were completed with 20 faces exposed from each category. The study used the UCLA Loneliness Scale as a measure.

“The results showed that warm targets captured the automatic attention of relatively lonely people, whereas competent targets captured the automatic attention of less lonely people,” the study reads.