Contrary to conventional wisdom and popular opinion, psychologists have shown that both men and women talk about the same amount each day — 16,000 words on average. The research finally puts to rest the myth that women talk more than men.
Researchers James Pennebaker, at the University of Texas at Austin, and Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl and their colleagues equipped 396 college students for several days with voice recorders. The recorders automatically turned on ever 12 1/2 minutes and recorded for 30 seconds during the wearer’s waking hours.
All words spoken by the wearer were transcribed, counted, and extrapolated to estimate a daily word count.
Women spoke an average of 16,215 words and men 15,669 words during an average of 17 hours a day they were awake. The difference of about 550 words was not statistically significant.
The researchers also determined that there was no trend, contrary to expectations, for the few most talkative individuals to be women. In the most talkative 15 percent of the subjects, half were women and half men. In three of the six samples, the single most talkative person was a man.
What was striking, Mehl, said was the great range of word use. The most was 47,000 words in a day, the least was 700.
Mehl noted that because all the volunteers were college students, there could be social or cultural factors at work. But the study suggests that there is no underlying biological difference that accounts for talkativeness.
“I think the next step is to look into older community samples, maybe older adults in different parts of the world and see whether different cultural norms play a role,” Mehl said.
There were stereotypical difference in subject matter.
“Men talk more about technology, work, money. They also use more numbers,” he said. “Women talk more about fashion and about relationships.”
The study, the largest of its kind to date, appeared in the journal Science.
Another study slated for publication shortly found similar results. That study, which examined 63 studies of gender differences in talkativeness, found that men actually talked slightly more than women. This was especially true when they were observed interacting with spouses or strangers, and when the topic of conversation was non-personal in nature.
The study by University of California at Santa Cruz psychologist Campbell Leaper will appear in a forthcoming issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.
Source: Mehl, M.R., Vazire, S., Ramírez-Esparza, N., Slatcher, R.B., & Pennebaker, J.W. (2007). Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?. Science, Vol. 317. no. 5834.