Sex Differences

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Sex Differences

#1  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 07, 2010 11:05 am

"Gender Differences in Verbal Ability: A Meta-Analysis"

Many regard gender differences in verbal ability to be one of the well-established findings in psychology. To reassess this belief, we located 165 studies that reported data on gender differences in verbal ability. The weighted mean effect size (d) was +0.11, indicating a slight female superiority in performance. The difference is so small that we argue that gender differences in verbal ability no longer exist. Analyses of effect sizes for different measures of verbal ability showed almost all to be small in magnitude: for vocabulary, d = 0.02; for analogies, d = −0.16 (slight male superiority in performance); for reading comprehension, d = 0.03; for speech production, d = 0.33 (the largest effect size); for essay writing, d = 0.09; for anagrams, d = 0.22; and for tests of general verbal ability, d = 0.20. For the 1985 administration of the Scholastic Aptitude Test-Verbal, d = −0.11, indicating superior male performance. Analysis of tests requiring different cognitive processes involved in verbal ability yielded no evidence of substantial gender differences in any aspect of processing. Similarly, an analysis by age indicated no striking changes in the magnitude of gender differences at different ages, countering Maccoby and Jacklin's (1974) conclusion that gender differences in verbal ability emerge around age 11. For studies published in 1973 or earlier, d = 0.23 and for studies published after 1973, d = 0.10, indicating a slight decline in the magnitude of the gender difference in recent years.
(Discussed in a bit more detail here).

Even though women are usually seen to be much more talkative than men or more capable of communicating (a 'fact' which tends to be followed by the claim that women speak roughly 22,000 words per day versus the man's 7,000) appears to be a purely fabricated myth. A few years ago, Mark Liberman (the author of the blog "Language Log") tried to track down the source of this myth and he thinks he may have found where it originated..

Mark Liberman wrote:This morning, I spent a fruitless hour trying to track down the source of Louann Brizendine's assertion that "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000". I found many similar assertions, with estimates of the male lexical allowance varying from 2,000 to 25,000, while assertions about the female daily word budget ranged from 7,000 to 50,000. But nowhere could I find any evidence that anyone has ever supported these assertions by actually counting words or measuring talking times. My current best guess is that a marriage counselor invented this particular meme about 15 years ago, as a sort of parable for couples with certain communication problems, and others have picked it up and spread it, while modulating the numbers to suit their tastes. This is what happened in the case that Geoff Pullum called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, discussed here. If I'm wrong, and you know a source for Brizendine's numbers that isn't just passing along someone else's story, please tell me.

Here's what I've found so far -- Click here to read more


In his blog he discusses the different way this myth is presented; varying numbers, multiple references, etc. But one of the interesting things he kept discovering was this idea of a "Lexical Budget" - that is, the differences between the language use of males and females is not simply one of averages (assuming the difference exists), but there are actual upper limits as to how many words each can speak per day. An interesting example of how this is supposed to impact our daily life is presented in his blog:

Here's the problem. At the end of the day -- whether the woman works in an office of in the home -- there is huge difference between the man's word count and the woman's. A man has spent nearly all his words. He comes home tired and drained, looking for a place to recharge for the next day's battle at the office.

A woman, however, is just warming up. She has thousands of words left to speak, and since her husband's word count is depleted, the conversations often wind up sounding like nothing more than question-and-answer sessions.


Anyway, has anyone come across any good evidence for or against the idea of sex differences in language? Or have they read any interesting myths or studies either looking at "lexical budgets" or some other equally absurd ideas?
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Re: Sex Differences

#2  Postby I'm With Stupid » Mar 07, 2010 11:46 am

Ooh, I'm going to read this later. Just a quick question that someone might've answered by the time I'm back, is it also a myth that girls mature quicker than boys, or is that one correct?
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Re: Sex Differences

#3  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 07, 2010 11:55 am

I'm With Stupid wrote:Ooh, I'm going to read this later. Just a quick question that someone might've answered by the time I'm back, is it also a myth that girls mature quicker than boys, or is that one correct?


Mark Liberman also looks into that in some detail in another blog post. I'll try to find it for you. If I remember correctly though, there is some truth to it but it's hugely overplayed.

EDIT: Here you go - How big is your crockus?

De Bellis et al. wrote:The sex by age interaction term was significant for cerebral GM and WM volumes and CC area. The slopes of these changes significantly differed between male and female subjects. Thus girls showed significant developmental changes with age but at a slower rate than boys. Specifically, males had an ~19.1% reduction in GM volume between 6 and 18 years of age compared with a 4.7% reduction in females. On the other hand, males had a 45.1% increase in WM and a 58.5% increase in CC area compared with 17.1 and 27.4% increases, respectively, in females.


Summed up by Mark: "In other words, the age-related effects in brain development (as measured in this study) went in the same direction in 7-to-17-year-olds of both sexes, but at a faster rate in boys.".
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Re: Sex Differences

#4  Postby THWOTH » Mar 13, 2010 9:29 am

The notion of the 'Lexicon Budget' is intriguing. When I was a stay-at-home dad and my partner was working in public service she'd come home pretty spent and all talked out, whereas I always had a lot to say because it had just been me, the baby and the radio at home all day. However, I put this down to general mental fatigue and not down to the idea that she had used up her daily word ration. I wonder how reading might effect the 'lexicon budget' idea? If you spend all day reading do you run out of things to say in the evening. And considering teenagers propensity to talk (a lot of rubbish) would it also account for their strophe single word retorts to questions like, "Where have you been 'till this time?" and, "What's that stain on your jacket?"...simply because their lexicon is in debit :dunno:
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Re: Sex Differences

#5  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 13, 2010 11:39 am

THWOTH wrote:The notion of the 'Lexicon Budget' is intriguing. When I was a stay-at-home dad and my partner was working in public service she'd come home pretty spent and all talked out, whereas I always had a lot to say because it had just been me, the baby and the radio at home all day. However, I put this down to general mental fatigue and not down to the idea that she had used up her daily word ration. I wonder how reading might effect the 'lexicon budget' idea? If you spend all day reading do you run out of things to say in the evening. And considering teenagers propensity to talk (a lot of rubbish) would it also account for their strophe single word retorts to questions like, "Where have you been 'till this time?" and, "What's that stain on your jacket?"...simply because their lexicon is in debit :dunno:


Hey TWOTH, good to see you here. And thanks for reviving my sad little thread.. :cheers:

I think with your example of you and your partner, it could be explained much better by looking at the reinforcing value of talking/conversation after a period of deprivation, in psychology this is known as a setting event. In other words, the less you have of something, then the more valuable it is. So whilst conversation may not be particularly important to you in general life, or on most days, when you've spent 8-10 hours basically by yourself with no one to talk to, then suddenly conversation becomes rather refreshing.

The reading question is interesting though. I can't remember what research I've read on the activity of mirror neurons during reading, but if they fire the same areas of the brain that work whilst talking then we should expect this to contribute to the "lexicon budget".

And with teenagers, it could simply be the case that parents ask incredibly dull questions :grin: I remember I was always a "whatever" kid (but to be fair, if a lexicon budget really existed, my budget has been less than 100 words/day for my entire life) but that was simply because people would ask me how was school etc. I've just spent 6-7 hours there, I don't really feel like reliving it. But ask me about my favourite tv show, or music, or art then I'll go on for ages. So teens are obviously a bit trickier to understand (and perhaps we should stop assuming they are human..), however, the problem there might just be that the conversation starters aren't that exciting to a kid who's spent years trying to develop a very specific "self" that might have fairly narrow interests at that time.
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Re: Sex Differences

#6  Postby Marie » Mar 17, 2010 10:19 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:"Gender Differences in Verbal Ability: A Meta-Analysis"

Many regard gender differences in verbal ability to be one of the well-established findings in psychology. To reassess this belief, we located 165 studies that reported data on gender differences in verbal ability. The weighted mean effect size (d) was +0.11, indicating a slight female superiority in performance. The difference is so small that we argue that gender differences in verbal ability no longer exist. Analyses of effect sizes for different measures of verbal ability showed almost all to be small in magnitude: for vocabulary, d = 0.02; for analogies, d = −0.16 (slight male superiority in performance); for reading comprehension, d = 0.03; for speech production, d = 0.33 (the largest effect size); for essay writing, d = 0.09; for anagrams, d = 0.22; and for tests of general verbal ability, d = 0.20. For the 1985 administration of the Scholastic Aptitude Test-Verbal, d = −0.11, indicating superior male performance. Analysis of tests requiring different cognitive processes involved in verbal ability yielded no evidence of substantial gender differences in any aspect of processing. Similarly, an analysis by age indicated no striking changes in the magnitude of gender differences at different ages, countering Maccoby and Jacklin's (1974) conclusion that gender differences in verbal ability emerge around age 11. For studies published in 1973 or earlier, d = 0.23 and for studies published after 1973, d = 0.10, indicating a slight decline in the magnitude of the gender difference in recent years.
(Discussed in a bit more detail here).

Even though women are usually seen to be much more talkative than men or more capable of communicating (a 'fact' which tends to be followed by the claim that women speak roughly 22,000 words per day versus the man's 7,000) appears to be a purely fabricated myth. A few years ago, Mark Liberman (the author of the blog "Language Log") tried to track down the source of this myth and he thinks he may have found where it originated..

Mark Liberman wrote:This morning, I spent a fruitless hour trying to track down the source of Louann Brizendine's assertion that "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000". I found many similar assertions, with estimates of the male lexical allowance varying from 2,000 to 25,000, while assertions about the female daily word budget ranged from 7,000 to 50,000. But nowhere could I find any evidence that anyone has ever supported these assertions by actually counting words or measuring talking times. My current best guess is that a marriage counselor invented this particular meme about 15 years ago, as a sort of parable for couples with certain communication problems, and others have picked it up and spread it, while modulating the numbers to suit their tastes. This is what happened in the case that Geoff Pullum called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, discussed here. If I'm wrong, and you know a source for Brizendine's numbers that isn't just passing along someone else's story, please tell me.

Here's what I've found so far -- Click here to read more


In his blog he discusses the different way this myth is presented; varying numbers, multiple references, etc. But one of the interesting things he kept discovering was this idea of a "Lexical Budget" - that is, the differences between the language use of males and females is not simply one of averages (assuming the difference exists), but there are actual upper limits as to how many words each can speak per day. An interesting example of how this is supposed to impact our daily life is presented in his blog:

Here's the problem. At the end of the day -- whether the woman works in an office of in the home -- there is huge difference between the man's word count and the woman's. A man has spent nearly all his words. He comes home tired and drained, looking for a place to recharge for the next day's battle at the office.

A woman, however, is just warming up. She has thousands of words left to speak, and since her husband's word count is depleted, the conversations often wind up sounding like nothing more than question-and-answer sessions.


Anyway, has anyone come across any good evidence for or against the idea of sex differences in language? Or have they read any interesting myths or studies either looking at "lexical budgets" or some other equally absurd ideas?


I "have to" go get lunch soon, but just two book suggestions. They are both excellent, well-researched, and written by experts. One is on language (the first one) particularly, the other on sex differences, which in language - and all other areas - are much smaller, much less clear and their innateness much more questionable than people usually think.

Deborah Cameron: The Myth of Mars and Venus
Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain
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Re: Sex Differences

#7  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 19, 2010 2:25 am

Marie wrote:
I "have to" go get lunch soon, but just two book suggestions. They are both excellent, well-researched, and written by experts. One is on language (the first one) particularly, the other on sex differences, which in language - and all other areas - are much smaller, much less clear and their innateness much more questionable than people usually think.

Deborah Cameron: The Myth of Mars and Venus
Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain


Thanks for those suggestions! :cheers:

I've heard of them before but I can't remember where, or whether they were positive discussions. If you had time, would you mind briefly summarising what each book attempts to demonstrate or investigate?

(And welcome to the forum!)
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Re: Sex Differences

#8  Postby Marie » Mar 19, 2010 11:23 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Marie wrote:
I "have to" go get lunch soon, but just two book suggestions. They are both excellent, well-researched, and written by experts. One is on language (the first one) particularly, the other on sex differences, which in language - and all other areas - are much smaller, much less clear and their innateness much more questionable than people usually think.

Deborah Cameron: The Myth of Mars and Venus
Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain


Thanks for those suggestions! :cheers:

I've heard of them before but I can't remember where, or whether they were positive discussions. If you had time, would you mind briefly summarising what each book attempts to demonstrate or investigate?

(And welcome to the forum!)


Ok, I guess I have a little more time now, I'll try to keep this short... :) First of all, I cannot say too much about the first book, I have not read the book itself (just some reviews and articles one it), and it sounded very interesting, so I would like to read it sometime. The second book I've read and thought it very good.

My master's thesis deals with this topic in a way (it looks at the relationships between religious ideology and science/scientific discourse in religious discourse). Originally, my intention was not to look at sex differences at all, but I did a short paper on them for a course, and it sort of ... evolved. :grin: Initially, I looked at the studies that first pop up if you do a search on the topic. These studies tend to say there is a difference of some degree, between the average males and females. And I, like most people, thought "well, it's science, so...", but for some reason I was left feeling unsatisfied, perhaps because the "typical" woman seemed to me like a typical, Anglophone woman (the first books I looked at were written by British and American researchers) that I decided to really, really look into it, I wanted to know what is really known about sex differences and what kinds of counter-arguments, if any, there are. So I started to look deeper into it and try to get my hands on the actual studies themselves, I read articles and books by neurobiologists and other experts in the field (if you look at the authors of some of the popular "difference" books, you'll find many of them are lay people with no training in the field or sometimes even in academic writing, one used to be a model, for example).

I quickly realized that the field seems to be quite inconsistent, contradictory, fragmented and has some serious problems to overcome (such as separating biology and environment or not confusing sociological studies for biological ones - as they have to be treated differently). Finding the actual studies or data used in many books proved pretty hard, but Lise Eliot's book came in handy for that (she has an excellent bibliography!). She is a neurobiologist, and looked at dozens and dozens of books and studies on this topic in her book. She also has the expertise to understand them. Basically her argument is that there the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" books use studies selectively, interpret them simplistically, are uncritical and that sex differences are "sexy", that is, they sell, people like to think men and women are different, ignore societal influence and the plasticity of the brain often completely, look at sociological studies on adult behavior (which in itself does not tell how the differences originated), extrapolate results from studies on rodents to humans without any consideration for the fact that what may be true of rats is not necessarily true of humans. She found that the studies reliably point to only very small differences in infants. I found her book a very helpful guide to understand the field better as someone who is not a biologist.

On a perhaps a little off-topic topic, I think those who study gender should not be afraid of studying sex differences or be worried even if some emerge, because one thing we know for certain: they do not apply to all men and all women nor can could they have any practical application. I would fear though that if feminists did not keep their eyes open on this topic, as it were, there would be (and in fact are) people who would try to use this information to re-establish gender inequality, which I would not like to see happen, of course, as I take no pleasure in doing the dishes, I can tell you. :tongue: Furthermore, gender researchers with an understand of biology might make a good sort of a "counter-force" to test the ideas and criticize the studies on sex differences, which I think is important in science (criticism, that is), I think it would help the field, but sadly not that many seem interested.
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Re: Sex Differences

#9  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 20, 2010 5:10 am

Marie wrote:

My master's thesis deals with this topic in a way (it looks at the relationships between religious ideology and science/scientific discourse in religious discourse).


Interesting, what field is that in exactly? Linguistics or something related like sociology, psychology..?

Marie wrote:Originally, my intention was not to look at sex differences at all, but I did a short paper on them for a course, and it sort of ... evolved. :grin: Initially, I looked at the studies that first pop up if you do a search on the topic. These studies tend to say there is a difference of some degree, between the average males and females. And I, like most people, thought "well, it's science, so...", but for some reason I was left feeling unsatisfied, perhaps because the "typical" woman seemed to me like a typical, Anglophone woman (the first books I looked at were written by British and American researchers) that I decided to really, really look into it, I wanted to know what is really known about sex differences and what kinds of counter-arguments, if any, there are. So I started to look deeper into it and try to get my hands on the actual studies themselves, I read articles and books by neurobiologists and other experts in the field (if you look at the authors of some of the popular "difference" books, you'll find many of them are lay people with no training in the field or sometimes even in academic writing, one used to be a model, for example).


:nod: Yeah that's pretty much exactly what I found. It's more like a passing interest of mine, rather than a serious research goal but every few months I always like to look through the research to see what the current thinking is. In the blog I linked to above, the author traced the myth of differences in male and female word counts to a religious pamphlet on marriage.. And from what I've seen, I agree with your assessment that many of the popular books often have no training in the field, or try to speak with authority on a field completely unrelated to their area of expertise.

Marie wrote:I quickly realized that the field seems to be quite inconsistent, contradictory, fragmented and has some serious problems to overcome (such as separating biology and environment or not confusing sociological studies for biological ones - as they have to be treated differently). Finding the actual studies or data used in many books proved pretty hard, but Lise Eliot's book came in handy for that (she has an excellent bibliography!). She is a neurobiologist, and looked at dozens and dozens of books and studies on this topic in her book. She also has the expertise to understand them. Basically her argument is that there the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" books use studies selectively, interpret them simplistically, are uncritical and that sex differences are "sexy", that is, they sell, people like to think men and women are different, ignore societal influence and the plasticity of the brain often completely, look at sociological studies on adult behavior (which in itself does not tell how the differences originated), extrapolate results from studies on rodents to humans without any consideration for the fact that what may be true of rats is not necessarily true of humans. She found that the studies reliably point to only very small differences in infants. I found her book a very helpful guide to understand the field better as someone who is not a biologist.


That sounds very interesting, I'll be sure to check it out now!

Marie wrote:On a perhaps a little off-topic topic, I think those who study gender should not be afraid of studying sex differences or be worried even if some emerge, because one thing we know for certain: they do not apply to all men and all women nor can could they have any practical application. I would fear though that if feminists did not keep their eyes open on this topic, as it were, there would be (and in fact are) people who would try to use this information to re-establish gender inequality, which I would not like to see happen, of course, as I take no pleasure in doing the dishes, I can tell you. :tongue: Furthermore, gender researchers with an understand of biology might make a good sort of a "counter-force" to test the ideas and criticize the studies on sex differences, which I think is important in science (criticism, that is), I think it would help the field, but sadly not that many seem interested.


Yes, good points. Even if the truth is not very pleasant, we shouldn't misrepresent the data to make it conform to our ideal preconceptions, and equally, we should not let the data dictate how we should live our lives. (Although it is tempting to try to use scientific evidence to force my fiancée to do the dishes so I don't have to... :ask: :grin: )

And I agree with the comment on researchers needing an understanding of biology. I think at the moment the area of sex differences suffers from the same problem as evo psych (and, to a degree, it is evo psych which is guilty of a lot of the bad information out there) where they might have a fair bit of knowledge in their own field, but they fail to understand a major aspect of the area they are looking at, i.e. biology. Most evo psych researchers have very little understanding of biology, evolution or genetics, which is why a lot of the studies that come out of that area simply aren't worth the paper they're printed on.
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Re: Sex Differences

#10  Postby Marie » Mar 20, 2010 8:47 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Marie wrote:

My master's thesis deals with this topic in a way (it looks at the relationships between religious ideology and science/scientific discourse in religious discourse).


Interesting, what field is that in exactly? Linguistics or something related like sociology, psychology..?


I have a degree in philology, but my main focus was in linguistics. I am particularly interested in sociolinguistics (in which "subcategory" my thesis would fall, I suppose).

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Marie wrote:Originally, my intention was not to look at sex differences at all, but I did a short paper on them for a course, and it sort of ... evolved. :grin: Initially, I looked at the studies that first pop up if you do a search on the topic. These studies tend to say there is a difference of some degree, between the average males and females. And I, like most people, thought "well, it's science, so...", but for some reason I was left feeling unsatisfied, perhaps because the "typical" woman seemed to me like a typical, Anglophone woman (the first books I looked at were written by British and American researchers) that I decided to really, really look into it, I wanted to know what is really known about sex differences and what kinds of counter-arguments, if any, there are. So I started to look deeper into it and try to get my hands on the actual studies themselves, I read articles and books by neurobiologists and other experts in the field (if you look at the authors of some of the popular "difference" books, you'll find many of them are lay people with no training in the field or sometimes even in academic writing, one used to be a model, for example).


:nod: Yeah that's pretty much exactly what I found. It's more like a passing interest of mine, rather than a serious research goal but every few months I always like to look through the research to see what the current thinking is. In the blog I linked to above, the author traced the myth of differences in male and female word counts to a religious pamphlet on marriage.. And from what I've seen, I agree with your assessment that many of the popular books often have no training in the field, or try to speak with authority on a field completely unrelated to their area of expertise.

Marie wrote:I quickly realized that the field seems to be quite inconsistent, contradictory, fragmented and has some serious problems to overcome (such as separating biology and environment or not confusing sociological studies for biological ones - as they have to be treated differently). Finding the actual studies or data used in many books proved pretty hard, but Lise Eliot's book came in handy for that (she has an excellent bibliography!). She is a neurobiologist, and looked at dozens and dozens of books and studies on this topic in her book. She also has the expertise to understand them. Basically her argument is that there the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" books use studies selectively, interpret them simplistically, are uncritical and that sex differences are "sexy", that is, they sell, people like to think men and women are different, ignore societal influence and the plasticity of the brain often completely, look at sociological studies on adult behavior (which in itself does not tell how the differences originated), extrapolate results from studies on rodents to humans without any consideration for the fact that what may be true of rats is not necessarily true of humans. She found that the studies reliably point to only very small differences in infants. I found her book a very helpful guide to understand the field better as someone who is not a biologist.


That sounds very interesting, I'll be sure to check it out now!

Marie wrote:On a perhaps a little off-topic topic, I think those who study gender should not be afraid of studying sex differences or be worried even if some emerge, because one thing we know for certain: they do not apply to all men and all women nor can could they have any practical application. I would fear though that if feminists did not keep their eyes open on this topic, as it were, there would be (and in fact are) people who would try to use this information to re-establish gender inequality, which I would not like to see happen, of course, as I take no pleasure in doing the dishes, I can tell you. :tongue: Furthermore, gender researchers with an understand of biology might make a good sort of a "counter-force" to test the ideas and criticize the studies on sex differences, which I think is important in science (criticism, that is), I think it would help the field, but sadly not that many seem interested.


Yes, good points. Even if the truth is not very pleasant, we shouldn't misrepresent the data to make it conform to our ideal preconceptions, and equally, we should not let the data dictate how we should live our lives. (Although it is tempting to try to use scientific evidence to force my fiancée to do the dishes so I don't have to... :ask: :grin: )

And I agree with the comment on researchers needing an understanding of biology. I think at the moment the area of sex differences suffers from the same problem as evo psych (and, to a degree, it is evo psych which is guilty of a lot of the bad information out there) where they might have a fair bit of knowledge in their own field, but they fail to understand a major aspect of the area they are looking at, i.e. biology. Most evo psych researchers have very little understanding of biology, evolution or genetics, which is why a lot of the studies that come out of that area simply aren't worth the paper they're printed on.


All I can say is that I totally agree. :thumbup:
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Re: Sex Differences

#11  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 20, 2010 9:12 am

Marie wrote:

I have a degree in philology, but my main focus was in linguistics. I am particularly interested in sociolinguistics (in which "subcategory" my thesis would fall, I suppose).


Very cool :thumbup:

You should actually enter the Science Writing Competition (details in my signature). It would be really interesting reading some linguistics in the competition as most of it is physics or biology.

Marie wrote:All I can say is that I totally agree. :thumbup:


Damn, that's the problem with posting 'controversial' topics in the science section - everyone is reasonable and they base their conclusions on evidence! ;)
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Re: Sex Differences

#12  Postby Marie » Mar 22, 2010 1:22 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Marie wrote:

I have a degree in philology, but my main focus was in linguistics. I am particularly interested in sociolinguistics (in which "subcategory" my thesis would fall, I suppose).


Very cool :thumbup:

You should actually enter the Science Writing Competition (details in my signature). It would be really interesting reading some linguistics in the competition as most of it is physics or biology.


That might be fun. :) Looks like I'll be unemployed and have nothing much to do in a couple of weeks, so I should have the time next month to do that. No money, but at least you can do whatever you want for once... :)
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Re: Sex Differences

#13  Postby katja z » Dec 09, 2010 8:43 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Anyway, has anyone come across any good evidence for or against the idea of sex differences in language? Or have they read any interesting myths or studies either looking at "lexical budgets" or some other equally absurd ideas?


Janet Holmes has a whole chapter on this in the book Language Myths: "Women talk too much"

Some of the interesting points she makes (supported by research, including her own):

In public (such as public seminars), there is a strong tendency for men to dominate the discussion time.

From kindergarten to the tertiary education, males dominate classroom talk. Here's an interesting bit worth quoting in full:
Teachers are often unaware of the gender distribution of talk in their classrooms. They usually consider that they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, and it is only when they make a tape recording that they realize that boys are dominating the interactions. Dale Spender (...) noted that teachers who tried to restore the balance by deliberately "favouring" the girls were astounded to find that despite their efforts they continued to devote more time to the boys in their classrooms. Another study reported that a male science teacher who managed to create an atmosphere in which girls and boys contributed more equally to discussion felt that he was devoting 90 per cent of his attention to the girls. (...) In other public contexts, too, such as seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that they are getting more than their fair share.


She points out that research shows that dominating the talking time is associated with the assertion of social status and power (in other news, the sun rises in the west), and speculates that "men seem to be more concerned with asserting status and power than women are".

In private contexts, where talk serves interpersonal functions, women talk more than in public ones, but hardly more than men:

the few studies which have investigated informal talk have found that there are fewer differences in the amount contributed by women and men in these contexts (though men still talked more in nearly a third of the informal studies reviewed by Deborah James and Janice Drakich).


In a study comparing the amount of talk between spouses, men dominated the talking time in traditional couples, but women associated with a feminist organisation tended to talk more than their husbands (= they were more prone to subvert traditional gender roles).

I feel this quote by Dale Spender (quoted by Holmes) wraps it up nicely:
The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.


source: Janet Holmes: "Women Talk Too Much" In: Language Myths. (Peter Trudgill and Laurie Bauer, eds.). ePenguin, 1998.
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Re: Sex Differences

#14  Postby Mr.Samsa » Dec 10, 2010 4:51 am

katja z wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
Anyway, has anyone come across any good evidence for or against the idea of sex differences in language? Or have they read any interesting myths or studies either looking at "lexical budgets" or some other equally absurd ideas?


Janet Holmes has a whole chapter on this in the book Language Myths: "Women talk too much"


Sounds good, thanks I'll check it out :cheers:

katja z wrote:Some of the interesting points she makes (supported by research, including her own):

In public (such as public seminars), there is a strong tendency for men to dominate the discussion time.

From kindergarten to the tertiary education, males dominate classroom talk. Here's an interesting bit worth quoting in full:
Teachers are often unaware of the gender distribution of talk in their classrooms. They usually consider that they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, and it is only when they make a tape recording that they realize that boys are dominating the interactions. Dale Spender (...) noted that teachers who tried to restore the balance by deliberately "favouring" the girls were astounded to find that despite their efforts they continued to devote more time to the boys in their classrooms. Another study reported that a male science teacher who managed to create an atmosphere in which girls and boys contributed more equally to discussion felt that he was devoting 90 per cent of his attention to the girls. (...) In other public contexts, too, such as seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that they are getting more than their fair share.


She points out that research shows that dominating the talking time is associated with the assertion of social status and power (in other news, the sun rises in the west), and speculates that "men seem to be more concerned with asserting status and power than women are".


Hmmm.. I think claiming that it's an assertion of "social status and power" is perhaps a bit speculative. Needless to say, being dominant, loud and talkative in a conversation is certainly a tool that some people use to control the direction of discussion and it is ultimately a display of "power", but to try to apply this thinking to all similar situations is misguided. There are numerous reasons why people dominate discussions, and very few include "asserting social status and power" (depending on how loosely you want to define those terms I guess).

With that said, I'm not overly surprised by the fact that more time is given to boys in classroom settings as it's quite a common finding. The last I read, the causal chain usually starts with the preconceived notion that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be "kept in line", then since most of a teacher's time is spent correcting/punishing problem behavior they end up spending more time with the boys (even if the distribution of trouble is equal across genders as they spend more time watching the boys, so they perceive more trouble coming from them), and following this, since some problem behaviors are caused by "attention seeking", this reinforces the problem behavior, which means the boys misbehave more and further emphasises the initial idea that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be kept in line..

katja z wrote:In private contexts, where talk serves interpersonal functions, women talk more than in public ones, but hardly more than men:

the few studies which have investigated informal talk have found that there are fewer differences in the amount contributed by women and men in these contexts (though men still talked more in nearly a third of the informal studies reviewed by Deborah James and Janice Drakich).


That's interesting.. I wonder if the myth that "women talk more than men" is then actually just an illusion caused by the public/private disparity? (This fits into your final quote, I think?).
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Re: Sex Differences

#15  Postby ChasM » Dec 10, 2010 6:25 am

An interesting discussion. Strange how these memes infect the general consciousness and are difficult to dispel. I've wondered if the "male/female quota of words" (like claim that we only use 10% of our brains) was just another factoid.

I don't know if this is relevant, but in regard to verbal ability in girls vs. boys, the latter have disproportionally larger numbers of verbal "learning differences," no? Forgive me if I ask a profoundly naive question, but male/female brains are basically the same in regard to verbal ability (as per the OP), why this discrepancy?
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Re: Sex Differences

#16  Postby katja z » Dec 10, 2010 10:34 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:
katja z wrote:

Janet Holmes has a whole chapter on this in the book Language Myths: "Women talk too much"


Sounds good, thanks I'll check it out :cheers:

It's a good book, but note that it is targeted at the general public, so the discussions are kept very general. Holmes gives no precise citations of specific studies, just general overviews of some findings.

katja z wrote:
She points out that research shows that dominating the talking time is associated with the assertion of social status and power (in other news, the sun rises in the west), and speculates that "men seem to be more concerned with asserting status and power than women are".


Hmmm.. I think claiming that it's an assertion of "social status and power" is perhaps a bit speculative. Needless to say, being dominant, loud and talkative in a conversation is certainly a tool that some people use to control the direction of discussion and it is ultimately a display of "power", but to try to apply this thinking to all similar situations is misguided. There are numerous reasons why people dominate discussions, and very few include "asserting social status and power" (depending on how loosely you want to define those terms I guess).


Well, of course it is speculative, but I don't think it is so far off the mark. She does present how men tend to perceive women taking up, say, half of the discussion time as taking more than their fair share (the same goes for the classroom findings, I didn't quote that bit). If someone is perceived to have the right to talk more than others, what is that if not an indirect indicator of social status? "Asserting" is maybe a strong word, Holmes certainly isn't suggesting this is about telling anyone to shut up and mind their proper place, but what is played out is effectively the play called "who has the right to speak and who has the right to listen". But it doesn't even get noticed until the expectations are breached.

With that said, I'm not overly surprised by the fact that more time is given to boys in classroom settings as it's quite a common finding. The last I read, the causal chain usually starts with the preconceived notion that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be "kept in line", then since most of a teacher's time is spent correcting/punishing problem behavior they end up spending more time with the boys (even if the distribution of trouble is equal across genders as they spend more time watching the boys, so they perceive more trouble coming from them), and following this, since some problem behaviors are caused by "attention seeking", this reinforces the problem behavior, which means the boys misbehave more and further emphasises the initial idea that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be kept in line..


:nod: That was my impression too, and I was surprised that this wasn't mentioned. Maybe an effect of time? The book is more than ten years old, the studies older, and they tell me schoolchildren were better behaved in the olden days. ;)

katja z wrote:In private contexts, where talk serves interpersonal functions, women talk more than in public ones, but hardly more than men:

the few studies which have investigated informal talk have found that there are fewer differences in the amount contributed by women and men in these contexts (though men still talked more in nearly a third of the informal studies reviewed by Deborah James and Janice Drakich).


That's interesting.. I wonder if the myth that "women talk more than men" is then actually just an illusion caused by the public/private disparity? (This fits into your final quote, I think?).


Definitely, and I this is connected with the traditional social roles of the genders. But note that even in private, in more traditional couples it was husbands who dominated the talking time (although probably not by as much as in public?).

Given the fact that many other cultures have proverbs that say, essentially, that women talk a lot, and unnecessarily, I would even say this is a handy way of engineering women's self-perception and reminding them to shut up ;)
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Re: Sex Differences

#17  Postby Mr.Samsa » Dec 10, 2010 11:01 am

ChasM wrote:I don't know if this is relevant, but in regard to verbal ability in girls vs. boys, the latter have disproportionally larger numbers of verbal "learning differences," no? Forgive me if I ask a profoundly naive question, but male/female brains are basically the same in regard to verbal ability (as per the OP), why this discrepancy?


I'm working mostly from memory here, but if I recall correctly girls do excel in verbal tests earlier than boys, but their progress is fairly steady, whereas boys show a rapid increase in performance later on. Essentially, the averages of both genders match up but there is still some discrepancy. Why this happens is still a bit of an open question I suppose, but if I were to guess then I'd said one of the main reasons is simply that people talk to baby/young girls significantly more than boys and, as we know, the more you practice something, the better you get. So girls end up receiving far more training in language, and as such, we see a difference in learning rates.

katja z wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:Hmmm.. I think claiming that it's an assertion of "social status and power" is perhaps a bit speculative. Needless to say, being dominant, loud and talkative in a conversation is certainly a tool that some people use to control the direction of discussion and it is ultimately a display of "power", but to try to apply this thinking to all similar situations is misguided. There are numerous reasons why people dominate discussions, and very few include "asserting social status and power" (depending on how loosely you want to define those terms I guess).


Well, of course it is speculative, but I don't think it is so far off the mark. She does present how men tend to perceive women taking up, say, half of the discussion time as taking more than their fair share (the same goes for the classroom findings, I didn't quote that bit). If someone is perceived to have the right to talk more than others, what is that if not an indirect indicator of social status? "Asserting" is maybe a strong word, Holmes certainly isn't suggesting this is about telling anyone to shut up and mind their proper place, but what is played out is effectively the play called "who has the right to speak and who has the right to listen". But it doesn't even get noticed until the expectations are breached.


Yes, but the problem is that a response that indicates an "expectation has been breached" is not the same as someone being perceived as not having the "right" to speak. Expectations are formed through norms and these can be shaped by a number of cognitive biases, which means that what we perceive as a "norm" might not even exist in the first place. I don't know what study she's looking at specifically or how it was conducted, but I'd be willing to bet that females would judge other females as "taking more than their fair share" in similar situations - this obviously isn't because women think other women don't have the right to speak, but rather it's a result of a number of biases we've developed in our culture.

I just don't think that "social status and power" is an adequate explanation for most loquacious people. Anecdotally, most of my friends are loud mouths and extremely talkative, but none of them have any interest in being the centre of attention or the "alpha male", they just like talking.

katja z wrote:
With that said, I'm not overly surprised by the fact that more time is given to boys in classroom settings as it's quite a common finding. The last I read, the causal chain usually starts with the preconceived notion that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be "kept in line", then since most of a teacher's time is spent correcting/punishing problem behavior they end up spending more time with the boys (even if the distribution of trouble is equal across genders as they spend more time watching the boys, so they perceive more trouble coming from them), and following this, since some problem behaviors are caused by "attention seeking", this reinforces the problem behavior, which means the boys misbehave more and further emphasises the initial idea that boys are rowdy troublemakers that need to be kept in line..


:nod: That was my impression too, and I was surprised that this wasn't mentioned. Maybe an effect of time? The book is more than ten years old, the studies older, and they tell me schoolchildren were better behaved in the olden days. ;)


:lol: Yeah, kids were always better behaved back in the day. At the beginning of the human race, I imagine the children were simply perfect angels.

katja z wrote:Definitely, and I this is connected with the traditional social roles of the genders. But note that even in private, in more traditional couples it was husbands who dominated the talking time (although probably not by as much as in public?).

Given the fact that many other cultures have proverbs that say, essentially, that women talk a lot, and unnecessarily, I would even say this is a handy way of engineering women's self-perception and reminding them to shut up ;)


It could be.. And I suppose there's also the fact that women have traditionally been viewed as second class citizens, so no matter what they're saying it will automatically be viewed as "unimportant". And obviously when we're listening to something that isn't important, then we tend to bore of it rather quickly, and when we're bored time seems to drag on, and thus it would give us the impression that the person has been talking for ages, when in reality it's only been a fraction of time.
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Re: Sex Differences

#18  Postby Crocodile Gandhi » Dec 10, 2010 11:18 am

Aside from a myth spreading about, what actually accounts for the perception that women speak more than men? From personal experience, it feels intuitively correct. Of the people I know well, the women outspeak the men by a distance. Or at least I preceive that to be true.

I think it would be very dificult to gauge how much a person speaks in natural settings. I can be quite shy when I am around people I do not know and barely say anything. In contrast, with my close friends and my sisters I am unbelievebly talkative. I suppose that the same or similar is true for other people. My perceptions are probably influenced by other people's preferences for talking around me.
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Re: Sex Differences

#19  Postby katja z » Dec 10, 2010 11:37 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Yes, but the problem is that a response that indicates an "expectation has been breached" is not the same as someone being perceived as not having the "right" to speak. Expectations are formed through norms and these can be shaped by a number of cognitive biases, which means that what we perceive as a "norm" might not even exist in the first place. I don't know what study she's looking at specifically or how it was conducted, but I'd be willing to bet that females would judge other females as "taking more than their fair share" in similar situations - this obviously isn't because women think other women don't have the right to speak, but rather it's a result of a number of biases we've developed in our culture.


I think we really are disagreeing about terminology here. Your biases and my expectations of what is normal are much the same thing. I didn't mean to say there were explicit norms, but that the done thing in a particular society became the measure of what is "natural" and "normal".

I just don't think that "social status and power" is an adequate explanation for most loquacious people. Anecdotally, most of my friends are loud mouths and extremely talkative, but none of them have any interest in being the centre of attention or the "alpha male", they just like talking.


I know what you mean, I'm the same so I shouldn't hold this against anyone, not even men :lol: On a more serious note, I think the observation on status and power was meant to account for general statistical differences between the genders, not for individual differences.

katja z wrote:
:lol: Yeah, kids were always better behaved back in the day. At the beginning of the human race, I imagine the children were simply perfect angels.

Theological fail. At the beginning of the human race, there were just two adults.

katja z wrote:
It could be.. And I suppose there's also the fact that women have traditionally been viewed as second class citizens, so no matter what they're saying it will automatically be viewed as "unimportant". And obviously when we're listening to something that isn't important, then we tend to bore of it rather quickly, and when we're bored time seems to drag on, and thus it would give us the impression that the person has been talking for ages, when in reality it's only been a fraction of time.


Talk about cultural bias and social status ... ;)
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Re: Sex Differences

#20  Postby Mr.Samsa » Dec 10, 2010 12:09 pm

Crocodile Gandhi wrote:Aside from a myth spreading about, what actually accounts for the perception that women speak more than men? From personal experience, it feels intuitively correct. Of the people I know well, the women outspeak the men by a distance. Or at least I preceive that to be true.


It could be accounted for the perceptual differences described by Katja above, or it could just be something as simple as differences in pitch - perhaps the female voice is at a certain level that is slightly annoying, and so it becomes more noticeable in extended periods. Or alternatively, the male pitch becomes monotonous and fades into the background where much of it is missed or forgotten.

Crocodile Gandhi wrote:I think it would be very dificult to gauge how much a person speaks in natural settings. I can be quite shy when I am around people I do not know and barely say anything. In contrast, with my close friends and my sisters I am unbelievebly talkative. I suppose that the same or similar is true for other people. My perceptions are probably influenced by other people's preferences for talking around me.


The studies I've read on this have varied in terms of how they've measured this; most attach the speaker with a 24/7 audio recorder and somebody transcribes what they say throughout an average day over the course of a few weeks. This obviously has the possible confound that people behave differently when being observed, but I imagine that given the naturalistic setting that this would be minimal. Other studies transcribe discussions that were recorded for other purposes (radio shows, public announcements, government discussions, etc) and calculate the word usages. All the studies that have been done, using a variety of methods measuring word usage across a number of settings and scenarios, have all consistently reached the conclusion that there is no difference between males and females. Some metaanalyses even suggest that there is a very slight difference which favours men.

katja z wrote:

I just don't think that "social status and power" is an adequate explanation for most loquacious people. Anecdotally, most of my friends are loud mouths and extremely talkative, but none of them have any interest in being the centre of attention or the "alpha male", they just like talking.


I know what you mean, I'm the same so I shouldn't hold this against anyone, not even men :lol: On a more serious note, I think the observation on status and power was meant to account for general statistical differences between the genders, not for individual differences.


Probably, it still just strikes me as a bit of a simplistic overgeneralisation..

katja z wrote:
katja z wrote:
:lol: Yeah, kids were always better behaved back in the day. At the beginning of the human race, I imagine the children were simply perfect angels.

Theological fail. At the beginning of the human race, there were just two adults.


Double theological fail. The original children of god were the angels, and they were designed by god to be perfect, hence "perfect angels". :awesome:

katja z wrote:
katja z wrote:
It could be.. And I suppose there's also the fact that women have traditionally been viewed as second class citizens, so no matter what they're saying it will automatically be viewed as "unimportant". And obviously when we're listening to something that isn't important, then we tend to bore of it rather quickly, and when we're bored time seems to drag on, and thus it would give us the impression that the person has been talking for ages, when in reality it's only been a fraction of time.


Talk about cultural bias and social status ... ;)


:tongue:

There's a difference between saying that the discrepancy is a product of perceived social status, and claiming that the discrepancy is a demonstration or assertion of social status.
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