Do women talk more than men? A study led by Dr. Matthias Mehl, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, shows that our perception of this gender difference cannot be proved empirically.
The stereotype that women are more talkative than men is one that is fairly ingrained in our society; the chatty female and silent male are recognizable archetypes. In the first print of The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine claimed that women use 20,000 words per day while men use 7,000. However, there were no studies in existence that validated that claim or showed that women actually spoke more than men!
“People have been doing a lot of research on gender differences in different contexts and in many contexts, men actually talk more. For example, work is a context where talking often indicates assertiveness and dominance. So we know talking rates in different contexts, but nobody had been able to put a number on how many words women and men use and for that sake how many words humans use in a day,” Dr. Mehl explained.
In order to tackle this question, with its findings published in Science in 2007, Dr. Mehl used the electronically activated recorder (EAR for short). The EAR is a digital voice recorder that records 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes. This allows the researchers to capture 5% of every day. They had a sample set size of 396 (210 women and 186 men). These men and women samples were taken from studies Dr. Mehl and his team had completed previously.
“We found that there was no significant gender difference whatsoever,” Dr. Mehl said. On average, women speak 16,215 words per day and men speak 15,669 words per day. However, Dr. Mehl says that the mean is not the best descriptor of this distribution—the distribution for this study was huge. One person used an estimated 795 words on average per day (an abstract in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night, Dr. Mehl jokes), while another used almost 47,000 words (both the least and the most talkative participant were men). However, the distributions were normal for both sexes and averaged out to have no statistical difference.
But, besides refuting the women talk more than men stereotype, listening to the recordings led Dr. Mehl to experience two aha(!) moments.
For one, he saw how mundane everyday lives are. “Every so often, we get the bungee jumps, but as a whole, life mostly floats along. We make our lives exciting in retrospect, but life is a lot of mundane moments, which isn’t bad,” Dr. Mehl says. And the other regarded how different lives are among people. “Some people listen to music all the time, some people laugh in every other sound file while some don’t laugh in the course of an entire weekend,” Dr. Mehl explained.
Right now, Dr. Mehl and his team are collecting data sets for individual studies, but over time, his goal is to gather more and more data so they will ultimately be able to synthesize the sets and answer bigger questions about our daily lives.
“What do people do in their daily lives and what psychological implications does it have for our health and personality?” he asks.