Cultural myths die hard. Even though a study in Science earlier this year found that men and women uttered nearly the same number of words in a day, yet women are widely perceived to be more chatty.
My pet theory is that men see themselves as talking about things that are necessary and important, like work-related matters, while women are stereotyped as talking about things that are less essential. Of course, men choose to forget all their chatter about sports, the merits of various cars, and industry gossip (but that isn’t gossip, it’s “intelligence’).
Thus, women talk is equated to less important, therefore it didn’t necessarily have to be said at all. Thus by definition (by men, of course), some or all or their words are superfluous. So “women talk more than they need to” then gets truncated into “women talk more,” And women accept the prevailing negative view.
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 research published by SAGE in the November issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.
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.”