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Men and women speak different languages, shows study

New research finds how power dynamics shape the speech of men and women.

  • A new psychology study finds differences in speech patterns between men and women.
  • Men tend to use more abstract language, while women focus more on the details.
  • This tendency is due to power dynamics that can be changed, concluded the researchers.


It's more than a cultural trope that men and women speak different languages – a new psychology study shows us that they indeed have very distinct communication styles.

A team of researchers from the San Francisco State University, led by Priyanka Joshi, took a close look at how men and women used "communicative abstraction" to relay their emotions and ideas through their word choices.

"Communicative abstraction" is a preference for using "abstract speech that focuses on the broader picture and ultimate purpose of action rather than concrete speech focusing on details and the means of attaining action," say the researchers. Macro vs micro.

What the scientists found is that men were much more likely to speak abstractly than women, who were more zeroed in on the details.

Joshi confirmed that while this kind of difference between men and women was previously noted "anecdotally," they found this to hold true across a series of six studies.

The psychologists looked at linguistic patterns of men and women in both written and spoken word. One of the studies involved poring over 600,000 blog posts on Blogger.com to determine if men wrote more abstractly than women. The researchers attributed abstractness ratings to 40,000 most frequently used English-language words like "table" or "chair' (with low abstractness) or "justice" and "morality" (high abstractness). The blog posts showed that men used the abstract verbiage much more often.

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Another study involved examining over 500,000 transcripts from U.S. Congressional sessions between 2001 and 2017. The speech patterns of over 1,000 Congress members revealed a similar conclusion – men invoked abstract language in many more speeches than women. This held regardless of party affiliation or whether it was said in the House or Senate.

What explains this phenomenon? The scientists think it is the result of the power dynamics throughout history, with men generally having more societal influence. A further study carried out by the researchers with west coast university students also showed that such speech patterns can be changed. By manipulating power dynamics, the scientists made the participants with more perceived power utilize more abstract concepts when speaking.

The authors think that ultimately there is no "fixed tendency of men or women" to speak a certain way but instead these patterns emerge "within specific contexts."

Check out the new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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