By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
July 09, 2007
Based on intermittent recordings taken of young men and women during sampling done for as long as 10 days at a time, researchers at the University of Texas-Austin concluded that both men and women utter about 16,000 words a day.
The findings, published in a brief report Friday in the journal Science, seek to refute claims made by many social scientists and brain researchers in recent years that women are nearly three times as talkative as men.
The claim was recently cited by Dr. Luann Brizendine, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco, in her best-selling book "The Female Brain." She reports that a woman speaks about 20,000 words a day, while a man uses 7,000.
"These findings have been reported widely by national media and have entered the cultural mainstream," said James Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas-Austin and co-author of the Science study.
"Although many people believe the stereotypes of females as talkative and males as reticent, there is no large-scale study that systemically has recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended periods of time," he added.
Brizendine argues that women talk more than men because the female brain is hardwired to communicate.
But Pennebaker said that earlier studies, usually based on short experiments monitoring a half hour to a few hours of recorded conversation, generally concluded either that men talked more than women in some situations, or that men and women speak about the same number of words.
For the University of Texas study, led by Matthias Mehl when he was a doctoral candidate, the psychologists used an electronically activated recorder to sample daily interactions automatically for 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes. Subjects wearing the recorders did not know when it came on or went off throughout the day.
Those recordings, done with nearly 400 university students in the United States and Mexico, were done in six samples collected between 1998 and 2004, and the sessions lasted from two to 10 days. There were 210 women and 186 men in the experiments, ages 17 to 29.
In several of the sessions, men actually talked more than women by a few hundred words on average. The wordiest men spoke as many as 47,000 words a day, the most reticent, about 500. But across the six sessions, women averaged 16,215 words a day and men 15,669 -- a statistical dead heat and far from a 3-to-1 ratio.
Mehl, now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, conceded that one possible weakness in the study was that all the subjects were university students.
However, he wrote that "to the extent sex differences in daily word use are assumed to be biologically based, they should be detectable in university students as much as in more diverse samples."
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