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Stereotypes of Quiet Men, Chatty Women Not Sound Science

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By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007; 2:28 PM

Across time and culture, the female predilection for chattiness and the male penchant for taciturnity have approached the status of unarguable facts. Now, two studies appear to bury these age-old stereotypes.

One recorded nearly 400 college students for days and found that members of each sex uttered virtually the same number of words.

"Wherever this really persistent stereotype comes from, we do not find evidence to support it," said Matthias R. Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona whose paper is published today in Science.

The second, an analysis of 63 studies of gender differences in talkativeness, found that men actually yakked slightly more than women, especially when interacting with spouses or strangers, and when the topic of conversation was non-personal.

Although, overall, "the magnitude of the difference was negligible," said Campbell Leaper, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the findings suggest that " some men may be using talkativeness to dominate the conversation."

His study will appear in a forthcoming issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Female garrulousness is ensconced in jokes, literature and even law. In Colonial America when gossiping was punishable with the "ducking stool," women were the more common victims. The idea appeared to gain scientific authority with the publication last year of Louann Brizendine's best-selling book "The Female Brain," which asserted -- without citing data -- that women utter about 20,000 words a day and men about 7,000.

Despite the popular view, few studies have found significant differences between the sexes in overall verbosity, although women and men (and boys and girls) do diverge in some notable situations.

The studies that Mehl and his colleagues analyzed were done among six groups of college students -- five in the United States, one in Mexico -- who wore digital sound recorders during their waking hours for two to 10 days.

Every 12 1/2 minutes, the machines turned on and recorded 30 seconds of sound. The researchers counted the number of words captured and extrapolated the sample to the whole day.

Women spoke an average of 16,215 words and men 15,669 words during an average of 17 waking hours a day. The difference -- just under 550 words -- was not statistically significant.

The researchers checked to see if there was a trend for the most loquacious individuals to be women. There was not. Of the most talkative 15 percent, half were women and half men. In three of the six samples, the single most talkative person was a man.


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