July 05, 2007

Male and Female College Students are Equally Talkative

That women are more talkative than men is a popular belief with little empirical support, in spite of which it is promoted in purportedly serious books like Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain, which Mark has discussed here. A new nail in the coffin for this idea appears in today's (6 July 2007) issue of Science, in a short paper entitled "Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?" by Matthias R. Mehl, Simine Vazire, Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, Richard B. Slatcher and James W. Pennebaker (Vol. 317. no. 5834, p. 82 DOI: 10.1126/science.1139940).

Mehl et al. studied 396 university students, 51 of them in Mexico, the remainder in the United States, consisting of 210 women and 186 men, who wore specially designed digital audio recorders. They could not tell when the recorders were recording and they could not turn them on and off. The recorders were programmed to record for thirty seconds every 12.5 minutes. In this way, they collected random samples of the participants' speech from which they could extrapolate the number of words each spoke per day. Overall, the women produced an average of 16,215 words per day, the men 15,669. Although a naive interpretation is that this shows that women are more talkative, the variance is large, so the difference of 546 words, only 3.5%, is not statistically significant. Indeed, although I don't think that anything can be made of the fact statistically, inspection of their data reveals that the handful of really extreme magpies, who produced over 40,000 words per day, were all male.

P.S.: In addition to the actual report cited above, access to which requires a subscription, there is an article about it, which I think does not. Of course, you really should be a member of AAAS, in which case you would have a subscription.

Posted by Bill Poser at July 5, 2007 06:25 PM