Women like to talk, is what the stereotypes would have you believe. But although it may be true that we like to talk about everything and anything from how we feel about the colour blue to work/love/family crises in such detail that would make men shudder, it may not be true that we like to gab more.
A new study from Northeastern University professor David Lazer's lab set out to find whether or not it is true. The answer? It's not so simple.
Lazer, who researches social networks and holds joint appointments in the Department of Political Science and the College of Computer and Information Sciences, didn't examine phone bills or issued a quiz.
Using "sociometers" – wearable devices roughly the size of smartphones – the researchers collected real-time data about the user's social interactions. Lazer's team was able to get a more accurate picture of the chatty-woman stereotype and they found that context plays a large role.
The groups of men and women were split in two different social settings for a total of 12 hours. In the first setting, master's degree candidates were asked to complete an individual project, about which they were free to chat with one another for the duration of a 12-hour day.
In the second setting, employees at a call-center in a major US banking firm wore the sociometers during 12 one-hour lunch breaks with no designated task.
"In the one setting that is more collaborative we see the women choosing to work together, and when you work together you tend to talk more," said Lazer. "So it's a very particular scenario that leads to more interactions. The real story here is there's an interplay between the setting and gender which created this difference."
But, asked Eurekalert, can we really make such sweeping generalisations about the communication patterns of women versus those of men?
"The research is surprisingly thin considering the strength of the stereotype: Some studies say yes, women are more talkative than men. Others say there's no pattern at all. Still others say men are even bigger chatterboxes.
"Perhaps all this contradiction comes from the difficulty of studying such a phenomenon. Most of these studies rely on either self-reported data, in which researchers gather information by asking subjects about their past conversational exploits, or observational data, in which researchers watch the interactions directly. But both of these approaches bring with them some hefty limitations."
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports and represents one of the first academic papers to use sociometers to address this kind of question. The research team includes Jukka-Pekka Onnela from the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory and the Harvard Kennedy School.