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Men Talk More Than Women Overall, But Not In All Circumstances

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A Gallup poll recently confirmed that men and women both believe that it is women who are most likely to possess the gift of gab. Some even believe that women are biologically built for conversation. This widespread belief is challenged in new research.

OLD WOMAN OF GLOSTER

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There was an Old Woman at Gloster,
Whose parrot two guineas it cost her;
But his tongue never ceasing,
Was vastly displeasing
To that talkative Woman of Gloster.

The article describes a recent set of meta-analyses conducted by Campbell Leaper and Melanie Ayres. These analyses collect all of the available evidence from decades of scientific study and systematically combine the findings into an overall picture of the differences between men and women regarding talkativeness.

The authors found a small but statistically reliable tendency for men to be more talkative than women overall — especially in certain contexts, such as when they were conversing with their wives or with strangers. Women talked more to their children and to their college classmates.

The type of speech was also explored in the analyses, which looked at verbal behavior in a wide variety of contexts. The researchers discovered that, with strangers, women were generally more talkative when it came to using speech to affirm her connection to the listener, while men’s speech focused more on an attempt to influence the listener. With close friends and family, however, there was very little difference between genders in the amount of speech.

“These findings compellingly debunk simplistic stereotypes about gender differences in language use,” conclude Leaper and Ayres. “The notion that the female brain is built to systematically out-talk men is hard to square with the finding that gender differences appear and disappear, depending on the interaction context. The results of the meta-analyses bolster arguments for social rather than strong biological influences of gender differences in language use.”

Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 11, No. 4, 328-363 (2007)
DOI: 10.1177/1088868307302221
© 2007 Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Reviews
A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Variations in Adults’ Language Use: Talkativeness, Affiliative Speech, and Assertive Speech
Campbell Leaper

University of California Santa Cruz, cam@ucsc.edu

Melanie M. Ayres

University of California Santa Cruz

Three separate sets of meta-analyses were conducted of studies testing for gender differences in adults’ talkativeness, affiliative speech, and assertive speech. Across independent samples, statistically significant but negligible average effects sizes were obtained with all three language constructs: Contrary to the prediction, men were more talkative (d = —.14) than were women. As expected, men used more assertive speech (d = .09), whereas women used more affiliative speech (d = .12). In addition, 17 moderator variables were tested that included aspects of the interactive context (e.g., familiarity, gender composition, activity), measurement qualities (e.g., operational definition, observation length), and publication characteristics (e.g., author gender, publication source). Depending on particular moderators, more meaningful effect sizes (d > .2) occurred for each language construct. In addition, the direction of some gender differences was significantly reversed under particular conditions. The results are interpreted in relation to social-constructionist, socialization, and biological interpretations of gender-related variations in social behavior.

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