By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, July 5 (Reuters) - Men talk every bit as much as women do, U.S. researchers said after painstakingly counting every word that 400 volunteers spoke.
Their study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, challenges the common wisdom that women are somehow biologically programmed to talk more — but the researchers said people do often fulfill gender roles when it comes to subject matter.
"Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean," the researchers, led by psychologist Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona, wrote.
Mehl and colleagues had been struck by widespread assertions that women talk more each day than men, and have a bigger vocabulary. "The 20,000-versus-7,000 word estimates appear to have achieved the status of a cultural myth," they wrote.
"So we generalize and say that women just talk all the time," Mehl added in a telephone interview.
Mehl’s team tested this belief by recruiting 396 U.S. and Mexican college students who wore a personal digital assistant with a recorder for anywhere between two and 10 days.
The devices recorded for 30-second periods every 12 or so minutes, giving representative samples of how much each person talked.
Teams of transcribers took down every word and then extrapolated each person’s daily verbiage.
"The data suggest that women spoke on average 16,215 words and men 15,669 words over an assumed period of, on average, 17 waking hours," the researchers wrote.
The variation among the different men in the sample and among the women was far greater than the differences between the sexes as a group, Mehl said.
"Just to illustrate the magnitude of difference, among the three most talkative males in the study, one used 47,000 words. The least talkative male spoke just a little more than 500," he said.
Mehl noted that because all the volunteers were college students, there could be social or cultural factors at work. But the study suggests that there is no underlying biological difference that accounts for talkativeness.
"I think the next step is to look into older community samples, maybe older adults in different parts of the world and see whether different cultural norms play a role," Mehl said.
There were stereotypical difference in subject matter.
"Men talk more about technology, work, money. They also use more numbers," he said.
"Women talk more about fashion and about relationships."
But again, Mehl said, the differences between two men or between two women were far greater than overall sex differences.
And both sexes can babble on senselessly. "Sometimes you find a stream of words but people don’t say very much," he said. "You just talk and talk and talk."