Friday, July 06, 2007

Louann Brizendine's Book Revisited. Or: Do Women Talk More Than Men?

Brizendine is a pop psychologist. Her 2006 book, called The Female Brain, naturally caught the attention of the Washington Post:

According to pop psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of the best-selling new book "The Female Brain," men and women come equipped with completely different operating systems -- not only below the belt but between the ears.

Like bath towels, there are his-and-her brains.

Or so Brizendine interprets the latest skull scanning: Woman is weather, "constantly changing and hard to predict." And man? Man is mountain. But maybe you knew that.


Her bottom line? "There is no unisex brain," says Brizendine, and "it follows these two brain models can produce quite different behaviors." Such as: Average Woman sure talks a lot. Average Man does not.


In the pages of "The Female Brain," briskly selling as an owner's manual for women and a kind of cheat sheet for men, Brizendine promises to reveal the neurological explanations why:

· Men think about sex every 52 seconds, while a woman does only once a day.

· Women speak faster on average -- 250 words per minute vs. 125 for a typical male.

· A woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000.

I have bolded the sentences you should read. All that stuff about women talking a lot more and using many more words. I remember reading earlier that researchers were rather puzzled with these findings, given that nobody could unearth the study that presumably produced them.

Well, now someone has done such a study, and it shows no statistically significant difference between the number of words men and women use on average:

Another stereotype _ chatty gals and taciturn guys _ bites the dust. Turns out, when you actually count the words, there isn't much difference between the sexes when it comes to talking.

A team led by Matthias R. Mehl, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, came up with the finding, which is published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The researchers placed microphones on 396 college students for periods ranging from two to 10 days, sampled their conversations and calculated how many words they used in the course of a day.

The score: Women, 16,215. Men, 15,669.

The difference: 546 words: 'Not statistically significant,' say the researchers.

'What's a 500-word difference, compared with the 45,000-word difference between the most and the least talkative persons' in the study, said Mehl.

Co-author James W. Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas, said the researchers collected the recordings as part of a larger project to understand how people are affected when they talk about emotional experiences.

They were surprised when a magazine article asserted that women use an average of 20,000 words per day compared with 7,000 for men. If there had been that big a difference, he thought, they should have noticed it.

They found that the 20,000-7,000 figures have been used in popular books and magazines for years. But they couldn't find any research supporting them.

The study also looked at vocabulary differences by gender. Out of the six samples of data in the study three showed men using a larger vocabulary, three showed women using a larger vocabulary.

What are the chances that Brizandine corrects those errors in the next edition of her book, eh? And what are the chances that the researchers of this most recent study will be invited to discuss their findings in all sorts of television programs?