Listen up, men. The next time you're tempted to call a woman a blabbermouth, you may want to hold your tongue.
It turns out that women and men talk about the same amount -- about 16,000 words a day, or 11 words a minute, researchers reported today in the journal Science.
"This was one of these urban myths," said senior author James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. "No one knows where this belief even came from, but it's been reported for years."
Upon reading that women are thought to speak 20,000 words a day, and men a mere 7,000, Pennebaker and his colleagues set out to discover the truth.
It was a perfect job for the EAR -- the electronically activated recorder -- that Pennebaker developed to unobtrusively record snippets of conversation during someone's daily routine. The cellphone-size device turns on every 12 minutes and records whatever it hears for 30 seconds.
The EAR comes in a variety of styles, depending on whether the subject prefers to carry it in a pocket, a purse or clipped to a belt. "Those are for the computer nerds," Pennebaker said.
Earlier attempts to measure the verbosity of the sexes relied on self-reported data from questionnaires or telephone interviews. Digital technology enables scientists to eavesdrop on actual conversations.
The researchers transcribed two to 10 days' worth of recordings from 396 university students in the U.S. and Mexico. After all that typing, they calculated that men average 15,669 words a day, and women utter 16,215. The 546-word difference was considered statistically insignificant.
Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of "The Female Brain," was thrilled to see the persistent stereotype go down.
"What it really means is not that she talks too much," said Brizendine. "It's that he doesn't listen enough!"
Men and women may be equally talkative, but the researchers did find some differences in their conversations. Men tend to talk about things, Pennebaker said, whereas women tend to talk about other people.
So, it seems, you can still call her a gossip.