Friday, July 06, 2007
Uh ... I don't ... ya know ... really have much to ... um:
Women aren't destined by biology to talk more than men, a study in today's edition of the journal Science concludes.
Among college students, both genders churn out about the same number of words every day, potentially exploding popular myths of expressive females and silent males.
The difference between men, at 15,669 words a day, and women, at 16,215, was so slight it didn't reach statistical significance, meaning it could easily have been due to chance.
"We were surprised that the sex difference was absolutely nonexistent. It was zero," said lead author Matthias Mehl, a University of Arizona psychology professor who studies psychological aspects of everyday life.
But ... um:
Mark Liberman, a University of Pennsylvania phonetics professor, has collected a range of "statistics" that, when tracked to their sources, rely on guesses rather than measurements. Among them: Women use 20,000 words a day to men's 7,000, or 25,000 to 12,000, or other counts that often depict women as twice as talkative as men.
The figures persist because they're "a quotable, quantitative, scientific-sounding validation of a widely believed social stereotype," Liberman said in an e-mail. "What's not to like -- except that the numbers were made up?"
Uh huh ...
In some ways, said Mehl, the lack of a gender divide was one of their least interesting findings.
Much more striking, he said, was the staggering range of individual variation, with talkaholics racking up 47,000 daily words and the most taciturn a mere 700, about 300 words fewer than are in this article.
The three biggest talkers were all male, and so were the least talkative.
Mehl cautioned against assuming that men and women of all ages, in all situations or cultures, would be equally talkative.
But he argued that if there had been a strong, biological predisposition for women to talk more, it would have shown up among college students.