Although they’re much more similar than different, men and women do have diverse ways of speaking, thinking and communicating overall. People will often point out that women tend to speak about specifics (concrete language) while men speak about the bigger picture, focusing on a goal (abstract language). A new study seems to confirm this anecdote.
Researchers, led by Priyanka Joshi of San Francisco State University, studied the differences in communication styles between men and women by examining over 600,00 blog posts published on Blogger.com.
The study involved examining linguistic patterns in the content by rating abstractness for approximately 40,000 words in the English language. For instance, words that were easily visualized such as “vehicle” or “stairs” were given a low rating for abstractness while words that were more difficult to visualize, such as “justice” or “love” were given a high rating. This study showed that men employed more abstract language in their communication than women.
In a second study, the researchers put this hypothesis further to the test by analyzing transcripts from U.S. Congressional sessions from 2001 to 2017. Overall, they analyzed over 500,000 transcripts delivered by more than 1,000 members of Congress. Again, men tended to use significantly more abstract language in their communication. This was true regardless of the Congress members’ political affiliation.
The researchers believe this mismatch in communication style may have something to do with power dynamics. Historically, men have had more power in society, which may explain why they tend to use more abstract wording.
In a follow-up study that involved 300 students, the authors investigated this hypothesis by manipulating the power dynamics in an interpersonal setting. Each participant had to play the role of either an interviewer or interviewee. They then had to describe certain behaviors. Those in the high-status interviewer position tended to use more abstract language than the lower-status interviewees.
This suggests that the differences in communication styles between men and women may be more contextual rather than a fixed tendency.