- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

A moment of silence, please, for the waning of yet another sexual stereotype: Women don’t talk more than men, at least according to a study released yesterday that actually counted the daily word use of all those blabby guys and dolls.

The womenfolk used 16,215 words in the course of the conversations, the men 15,669. Do the math, and that makes a verbal gender gap of a mere 546 words.

But one thing’s for sure: The sexes still talk about entirely different subjects.

“Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean number,” said lead author Matthias Mehl, a psychologist with the University of Arizona.


Manly conversations revolved around technology, work and money; their talk tended to have more references to numbers in it. The ladies, however, fixated upon relationships, fashions and other proverbial girly things.

It took the researchers six years to document these revelations.

With the help of a separate team of psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Mehl painstakingly tracked the chattering of 345 American college students and 51 in Mexico — who each wore digital devices that recorded 30-second intervals of their lives every 12 minutes, some for as long as 10 days. The representative samples of talk or silence were than transcribed, and the estimated “daily verbiage” recorded for both sexes from 1998 to 2004.

The findings were in direct opposition to recent research that had posited the idea that women were hard-wired to talk more, and had better vocabularies besides. In the 2006 book “The Female Brain,” University of California at San Francisco neuroscientist Louann Brizendine asserted that garrulous females used 20,000 words a day to men’s spare conversations of 7,000.

The press seized upon the idea, offering such headlines as, “Women talk three times as much as men,” among others.

“We do what’s called overlapping speech a lot, where we talk over each other all the time,” Dr. Brizendine told CBS News at the time. “Men don’t like that. They think we’re interrupting them all the time.”

Dr. Brizendine, who runs the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at the university, also suggested that chitchat had a druglike effect on females, setting off “a rush of chemicals in the female brain that is not unlike heroin for addicts.”

Well, maybe not, according to Mr. Mehl and company.

“The 20,000-versus-7,000 word estimates appear to have achieved the status of a cultural myth,” noted the study, which was published yesterday in Science.

“Those findings have been reported widely by national media and have entered the cultural mainstream,” said James W. Pennebaker, co-author and chairman of the psychology department at the Texas campus. “Although many people believe the stereotypes of females as talkative and males as reticent, there is no large-scale study that systematically has recorded the natural conversations of large groups of people for extended period of time.””

The findings did confirm some extremes among the men, though. The blabbiest guy in the group used 47,000 words in one day. The least talkative only managed 500 words.

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