Men – the other talkative sex
- Men – the other talkative sex
- 11:20 06 July 2007
- NewScientist.com news service
- Roxanne Khamsi
Contrary to the common belief that women are much more talkative than men, a new study has found that in fact they use only 3% more words each day. The experiment used novel technology to give the first rigorous comparison of how much men and women chat.
The researchers, led by Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, US, recruited 210 female and 186 male students of Mexican and US origin. The volunteers were fitted with a device called the "electronically activated recorder" (EAR). This digital device recorded 30 seconds of sound every 12.5 minutes as the subjects went about their daily lives. Students wore the device for between two to 10 days.
From these sound files, Mehl's team estimated that women speak an average of 16,215 words each day, whereas men speak 15,669. While some men fit the "silent type" stereotype, others would be better described as motor-mouths.
The male volunteer who spoke the least uttered just 500 words a day, while the most loquacious man spoke an astonishing 47,000 words daily.
The finding that both sexes speak roughly the same amount counters claims by the neuro-psychiatrist Louann Brizendine that gossipy women utter 20,000 words each day, while males squeak out a measly 7000.
Mehl and his colleagues conclude that "the widespread and highly publicised stereotype about female talkativeness is unfounded". They note the new study only included university students, so further research is necessary to confirm that older men and women also talk about the same amount as one another.
Linguist Alice Freed at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, US, says that the caricature of the gossipy gal can have a truly negative effect: "The power of the stereotype is that women are considered to speak too much." She says that this stereotype emerged as a way to devalue what women had to say.
But James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas, US, who worked with Mehl on the study, believes that the stereotype has a different origin. "I think it's because of the way that women and men naturally react to conflict," he says. "Women talk more during arguments, and we extrapolate those very salient memories to the rest of life."
The new analysis also revealed that there is slightly more variation among men in terms of the number of words spoken per day than among women.
Also, previous research from Pennebaker and his fellow researchers has shown that women tend to use more pronouns, such as "I" and "they", while men tend to use more nouns, when they speak.
Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1139940)