Saturday, August 4, 2007

Do Women Talk More Than Men? A New Study Says No, Doubts Linger

Via Zuska comes this study proporting to rebut the stereotype of women chatting more than men.

Alas, I find great fault with this study's methodology and conclusions. They spell out the obvious limitations in their study in the concluding paragraph.

"A potential limitation of our analysis is that all participants were university students. The resulting homogeneity in the samples with regard to sociodemographic characteristics may have affected our estimates of daily word usage. However, none of the samples provided support for the idea that women have substantially larger lexical budgets than men. Further, to the extent that sex differences in daily word use are assumed to be biologically based, evolved adaptations (3), they should be detectable among university students as much as in more diverse samples. We therefore conclude, on the basis of available empirical evidence, that the widespread and highly publicized stereotype about female talkativeness is unfounded. "

There are so many logical errors in this I don't know where to begin. The question they were investigating was whether women do or do not, in fact, talk more than men. The question was not whether women talk more than men due to a biologically based evolutionary adaptation. Further, even if this study did conclusively show the lack of any such adaptation, that does not refute the claim that women talk more than men per se. Thus, that final sentence above is a non sequitor.

There is also the issue of their interpretation of the stereotype. It has been my experience that one's perception of "who talks too much" is highly inversely correlated with one's interest in what is being said. And since men and women have different interests, and men for so long had more power to influence stereotypes, it seems reasonable to conclude men perceive women to talk too much because the men weren't very interested in what the women were saying. Even if the women were just as disinterested in what the men were saying, it wouldn't make much difference in the stereotype, because of the privledged status of men relative to women in society until very recently.

To make matters worse, because of the discrimination that went on against women for so long, particularly with regard to education, it seems hardly a stretch to suggest that the average woman was a little less interesting to listen to talk than the average man, again until very recently when the sociological disparities have narrowed or been eliminated entirely. Slaves in the old south were far more interested in the discussions the men had.

To put the finishing touch on my armchair sociology, it's been my experience that uneducated people do in fact talk more than educated people, which implies women would have historically talked more than men in the past, for all the same reasons enumerated above. This is in part due to the more frequent use of filler words and phrases like "like", "you know", "he said", etc., in the speech of the uneducated. Having to wade through that verbal clutter wears down one's audience, further adding to the perception that one talks too much.

In summary, this study dodges the plausible, and fairly obvious to me anyway, potential historical and sociological causes of the stereotype that women talk more than men. They equivocate on what "women talk more than men" means, focus on a very narrowly defined potential biological cause, and draw unwarranted conclusions from their arbitrarily limited data. I suggest they use this study as their first data point in another study on another stereotype: the one that says psychology researchers construct their experiments and interpret their data to fulfill those views to which they were predisposed.

6 comments:

Zuska said...

It's refreshing to see that your "armchair sociology" is not in anyway impaired by the actual data collected in the study.

ScienceAvenger said...

Cute, but baseless. The data says college men and women talk a roughly equal amount. The question then becomes "why does the stereotype exist?", and so I constructed an argument that is consistent with other attributes of society. Why is it not reasonable to note a way it might have been true once, and has prevailed through social inertia and bias?

Zuska said...

Not baseless.

You begin by saying "there are so many logical errors in this I don't know where to begin." The authors of the study collected data showing that college-age men and women on average talk the same amount. They then suggest that, IF sex differences in daily word use were biologically based, THEN you'd expect to see them in university students as much as any other population. But you don't. So, given that the empirical data collected on this group doesn't support the stereotype, and given that the empirical data doesn't support a biological basis for the stereotype, it is reasonable to conclude that the stereotype itself is unfounded. I don't think that the reasoning applied in that conclusion is "full of logical errors". No, they weren't investigating whether women talk more than men due to biologically based adaptations - but they introduced that possible reason for the existence of the stereotype as another means of thinking about the data they collected. What if such an adaptation existed - what then would you expect to see in any given population? It's a means of thinking about the data set collected from a limited population. Not having such an adaptation does not refute the stereotype - but the "available empirical data" does, which is what they base their conclusion on.

The problem I have with your armchair sociology is the problem I have when anyone goes off on "It has been my experience". The men who were writing those "humor" pieces I complained about in my original post were writing based on their "experience" that no matter what the scientists said, women talk more than men. "My experience" is an often unrealiable source of speculation, fraught as it is with bias. Now, that's not to say that we can't ever infer anything useful or interesting to think about. However...

The part of your armchair sociology that I find particularly troubling is the statement that uneducated people talk more than educated people. On what basis can you possibly make this conclusion? Education is no guarantee against using verbal fillers in conversation, and you could just as easily argue that being uneducated would make one shy about speaking up much. Your armchair sociology comes across more like an educational prejudice.

That's why studies like this one, that actually measures real word use, instead of thinking about what we "know" from our personal experience, are so important. It gets past our biases and preconceptions. Unfortunately, some people - like the men writing those humor columns - are so wedded to those preconceptions that not even the data can shake them loose.

ScienceAvenger said...

Not baseless.

The study provides good evidence that any perceived difference between the amount of talking of men vs women does not have a biological basis. My armchair sociology is consistent with that finding. So I maintain my position that your implication that I ignored the data is baseless. You might disagree with my conjecture, but it is certainly not baseless.

So, given that the empirical data collected on this group doesn't support the stereotype, and given that the empirical data doesn't support a biological basis for the stereotype, it is reasonable to conclude that the stereotype itself is unfounded. I don't think that the reasoning applied in that conclusion is "full of logical errors".

Well, let the actuary correct you: it is. You can't take data that only looks at one factor, in this case genetics, and draw conclusions concerning other factors. That would be like having a study testing whether bears eat deer and finding no evidence concluding that wolves don't either. Obviously many differences between male and female behavior is culturally influenced, so it is not exactly a blind leap to consider such possiblities. You are making the same mistakes they are: drawing a conclusion that goes beyond the data.

Keep in mind this is all coming from a motormouth man who wouldn't be surprised if there were no difference whatsoever in the volume of speech between men and women. I just suspect, for the reasons I gave earlier, that there is a vanishing difference caused by social factors. I look forward to seeing a study that addresses this. This study ain't it.

The problem I have with your armchair sociology is the problem I have when anyone goes off on "It has been my experience". The men who were writing those "humor" pieces I complained about in my original post were writing based on their "experience" that no matter what the scientists said, women talk more than men. "My experience" is an often unrealiable source of speculation, fraught as it is with bias.

I agree. However, I didn't take the position that my personal experience overrides experimental data, so don't condemn me for the sins of others.

The part of your armchair sociology that I find particularly troubling is the statement that uneducated people talk more than educated people. On what basis can you possibly make this conclusion?

Personal experience, that of others, and psychological studies (more below), among others.

Education is no guarantee against using verbal fillers in conversation, and you could just as easily argue that being uneducated would make one shy about speaking up much.

Yes, one might, except for the findings of the psychologists (and I wish I had a link on this) that it takes a good bit of intelligence to understand one's level of intelligence. And this was a finding that conflicted with my views at the time. Thus we get ignoramuses babbling on oblivious to the fact they are ignoramuses.

Your armchair sociology comes across more like an educational prejudice.

Only to one predisposed to reject it. To one who has made the same observations I have, it comes across as a reasoned conclusion.

With all due respect, it appears the one here with the ax to grind is you, determined to claim any difference between men and women's verbosity is imaginary, based on a study whose focus was far too narrow for such a far-reaching conclusion.

Stagyar zil Doggo said...

ScienceAvenger,
I just added a new comment on this subject at Zuska's blog. You can now put your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

ScienceAvenger said...

Interesting Stagyar, although the link you provided no longer works.

However, I am most interested in seeing what the new study shows.