I could have told you this if you’d just stopped talking long enough to listen:

Another stereotype — chatty gals and taciturn guys — bites the dust. Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn’t much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking.

A team led by Matthias R. Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, came up with the finding, which is published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The researchers placed microphones on 396 college students for periods ranging from two to 10 days, sampled their conversations and calculated how many words they used in the course of a day.

The score: Women, 16,215. Men, 15,669.

The difference: 546 words: “Not statistically significant,” say the researchers.

“What’s a 500-word difference, compared with the 45,000-word difference between the most and the least talkative persons” in the study, said Mehl.

Co-author James W. Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas, said the researchers collected the recordings as part of a larger project to understand how people are affected when they talk about emotional experiences.

They were surprised when a magazine article asserted that women use an average of 20,000 words per day compared with 7,000 for men. If there had been that big a difference, he thought, they should have noticed it.

They found that the 20,000-7,000 figures have been used in popular books and magazines for years. But they couldn’t find any research supporting them.

“Although many people believe the stereotypes of females as talkative and males as reticent, there is no large-scale study that systematically has recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended periods of time,” Pennebaker said.

Indeed, Mehl said, one study they found, done in workplaces, showed men talking more.

Still, the idea that women use nearly three times as many words a day as men has taken on the status of an “urban legend,” he said.

Read the rest here.


5 Responses

  1. A sample restricted to college students is hardly representative of the general population. It’s no better than anecdote as a source of evidence.

  2. Unimpressed by the study. Male college students could well be far more verbal than most other males. Not to mention that the presence of observed microphones could well have influenced more talking in the subjects. Only a much broader study of the population, with much better methodolgy, could have any value.

  3. I’m more interested in how the unsupported 20,000 to 7,000 figure got to be accepted wisdom. I’m not surprised that it did — it’s exactly the kind of thing people love to repeat, and journalists are no better than the rest of us.

  4. It is not so much “how much” they were saying but “what” they were saying that would be interesting to know.

  5. I remember a MilBlog conference where Holly Aho was with a bunch of military folks and blogers and reservists and etc. She didn’t say much all in all, until it came to her specialty.

    So depending on what the topic is, some women or men might not just say ANYTHING. Talking shop, girl talk, and the other phrases we use is much better all in all to describe word count amongst men and women.

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