Study debunks chatterbox image of women

10 July, 2007:

Smashing the age-old image of women as chatterboxes, a new study has found that men talk almost as much as women do.

A study by the University of Arizona, the United States, actually counted how many words members of each gender speak in a day.

Both speak about 16,000 words a day, give or take a few hundred. That is 11 words a minute.

“The stereotype of female talkativeness is deeply engrained in western folklore and often considered a scientific fact,” says Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Science.

In her book The Female Brain, the neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine had reported that women used about 20,000 words a day and men 7,000.

Professor Mehl said the estimates seemed to have gained “the status of a cultural myth.”

Over six years, Professor Mehl’s team recorded the daily conversations of about 400 American and Mexican university students, who wore electronically activated recorders that captured 30-second snatches of talk every 12.5 minutes. The women had a daily average of 16,215 words, as against the men’s total of 15,669 words.

According to Mehl, while there was no statistically significant difference between the sexes, there were significant differences between individuals – from 500 words a person to 45,000 words a person.

“What we found is that women are not hard-wired in the brain to talk more than men do, as so many have thought,” says Mehl.

However, many psychologists differ with the new findings – like Gloria Bernat, a long-time psychologist based in Tucson, who says: “I have always found that women do indeed talk more than men. That has simply been the anecdotal evidence of 30 years of dealing with them.”

In fact, it was a primary finding in the popular book The Female Brain that women speak three times as many words in a day than men do that caught the University of Arizona’s attention.

Moreover, Brizendine says, talking activates more brain cells in women than in men and produces a kind of “rush” of pleasurable chemicals in the female brain as a result.

But those involved the University of Arizona-based research – exploring how people are affected by verbalising emotional experiences – had been recording male and female daily speaking habits for several years and had noticed no such gap.




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