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Author Topic: (non-cric): Are women greater chatterboxes than men? Apparently not  (Read 1021 times)

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New research finding men and women speak roughly the same number of words each day is likely to get both sexes talking, experts say.

Researchers recorded the daily conversations of 400 university students in the United States and Mexico over a period of several days. They found that females spoke about 16,215 words each day, and males uttered an average of 15,669 words, which was considered a statistical dead heat.

"So, counter to stereotypes, there doesn't seem to be evidence that males and females talk at different rates, at least among college students," said study author James Pennebaker, the psychology department chairman at the University of Texas at Austin.

His team published the findings in the July 6 issue of Science.

Well-worn clichés about women being chatterboxes all stem from the same cultural notion -- that they love talking much more than men, experts said..

But there has never been any scientific proof to back up that stereotype, said Marianne LaFrance, a professor of psychology and women's gender and sexuality studies at Yale University.

In her own and others' work, LaFrance noted, "the research is consistently showing either no sex differences in the amount that men and women talk, or if there is a difference, then it depends on the context. For example, in a professional context, men actually outspeak women by a long shot."

That's why behavioral psychologists won't be overly surprised by the Science findings, added LaFrance, who was not involved in this research. "What's novel here isn't the findings but rather the methodology," she said..

Because of recent advances in technology, Pennebaker's group was able to design a cell phone-sized recording device that the study participants could carry in a pocket while their everyday conversations were taped by a mike clipped to their lapel. The participants quickly forgot they were wearing the recorder, Pennebaker said, and "after the first couple of hours, people rarely made mention of the device."

And unlike prior studies, where participants had some control over when and where the recorder was switched on, the device used in the new study automatically clicked on every 12 minutes to record whatever was being said -- or not said -- for the next 30 seconds.

The 19- to 25-year-olds in the study wore the voice recorders for several days each.

The result: Pennebaker's team found no gender difference whatsoever in the amount of talking done each day by these young men and women.

According to Pennebaker, it's still possible that differences in verbalization between the sexes emerge as people age. And he said the study's focus on college students might also ignore behavioral differences between men and women based on social class.

But LaFrance believes that prevailing notions of the "female chatterbox" have cultural and political roots based in sexism.

"There's this prevailing idea that women are engaged in trivia, in minutia, silly patter," she said. On the other hand, stereotypical men are thought to hang back, silent, until they have something really important to say.

But study after study refutes these pat assumptions, the Yale expert said. For example, there's ample evidence that gossip is just as popular a topic of conversation (if not more so) among men as it is among women, LaFrance said.

However, it is true that women and men tend to favor distinct subject matter when they talk, she said.

"The data shows that women do tend to talk about relationships more," LaFrance said. And it's possible that this desire by women to better understand other people, most notably their partners, has given rise to certain stereotypes.

"If I were going to guess why people think women talk more, it would be that it probably comes from what happens during [romantic] conflict," Pennebaker said. "There have been some studies to suggest that during emotional conflict, guys get quiet and women talk more."

Even though the tendency of males to "clam up" in these private disputes doesn't carry over to other social contexts, people may generalize that men are withdrawn by nature, Pennebaker said.

LaFrance agreed. "One of the biggest complaints in heterosexual relationships that women have is the 'unforthcomingness' of their male partners," she said. "That may be where part of these stereotypes come from."

But the experts agreed that men can quickly become much more verbal when the mood strikes them.

In marital conflict situations, "the data shows that it depends what they're talking about," LaFrance said.

"If she wants to talk about something that he cares about, then he will respond," she added.

And subject matter is also key, she noted: "Just get guys talking about sports or finance or lawnmowers -- then you've got another category of chatterboxes."

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