An Investigation of Female/Maie Verbal Behaviors in Same-Sex and Mixed-Sex Conversations

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1 COUNICATION REPORTS, Volume 8, No. 2, Summer 1995 An Investigation of Female/aie Verbal Behaviors in Same-Sex and ixed-sex Conversations LYNN H. TURNER, KATHRYN DINDIA and JUDY C. PEARSON This paper examines 11 variables commonly believed to discriminate between the verbal behavior of males and females. The analysis uses the Kraemer-Jacklin (1979) statistic to isolate and test the effects of sex of subject, sex of partner, and their interaction while controlling for between partner correlation. Results indicate that women use more justifiers, intensifiers and agreement whereas men exhibit more vocalized pauses. en also receive more vocalized pauses. The conversations of mixed-sex dyads contained more overlaps and, marginally, more interruptions than conversations of same-sex dyads. However, interruptions and overlaps were not performed more frequently by men (or women). Researchers have long been interested in describing women's and men's language patterns (e.g. Jespersen, 1922; Parsons, 1913; Stopes, 1908). An assumption of difference has framed these and subsequent efforts. The notion of difference has been interpreted variously (see Johnson, 1983, for a review of these conceptualizations) and explained by a variety of theoretical perspectives (see Kramarae, 1981). However, regardless of perspective, most researchers begin their examinations of gender and communication assuming that women and men differ. This assumption of difference persists despite the fact that the data supporting it have been inconclusive and inconsistent. Beliefs about language differences between women and men appear to be stronger than observable differences (Pearson, Turner, & Todd-ancillas, 1991). The current study tested whether there were sex differences in 11 verbal behaviors hypothesized to discriminate females from males: talk time, vocalized pauses, verbal fillers, interruptions, overlaps, questions, tag-end questions, intensifiers, justifiers, hedges, and expressions of agreement. Although past research findings are inconclusive with regard to sex differences in these behaviors, they were chosen because they are frequently included in studies of gender and communication. Further, despite the inconsistentfindingsassociated with these 11 verbal cues, it is the consensus of researchers that males and females differ in their use (Smythe & Huddleston, 1992). (See Table 1 for a summary of research findings). Lynn H. Turner (Ph.D. Northwestern, 1989) is in the Department of Communication Studies at arquette University, Kathryn Dindia, (Ph.D. University of Washington, 1980) is in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-ilwaukee, and Judy C. Pearson (Ph.D. Indiana University, 1975) is in the Department of Family and Child Development at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

2 SUER RATIONALE Table 1 illustrates the lack of consistency in the findings relative to gender and the 11 communication variables under consideration here. These inconsistent results are due in large part to several methodological issues. TABLE 1 Past Research on Gender and Communication Variable Talk time Verbal fillers Vocalized pauses Interruptions Overlaps Justifiers Intensifiers Hedges Questions Tag questions Agreement *eta analysis. Study Eakins & Eakins, 76 Reis, Senchak, Solomon, 85 Smythe & Schlueter, 86 Hirschman, 75 ulac, Lundell, Bradac, 86 ulac & Lundell, 86 ulac, Wiemann, Widenmann & Gibson, 88 no clear empirical data Baird, 76 Eakins & Eakins, 78 Hall, 84 West & Zimmerman, 83 Zimmerman & West, 75 Dindia, 87 Kennedy & Camden, 83 Smythe & Schlueter, 86 Wiemann, ulac, Zimmerman, & ann, 87 Zimmerman & West, 75 ulac & Lundell, 86 ulac, etal., 88 Jespersen, 22 Lakoff, 75 ulac, etal., 88 Schultz, Briere, Sandier, 84 cillan, Clifton, cgrath, & Gale, 77 Lakoff, 75 Crosby & Nyquist, 77 ulac, et al., 88 Sayers & Sherblom, 87 Staley, 82 Fishman, 78 Smythe & Huddleston, 92 ulac, etal., 88 Lakoff, 75 ulac & Lundell, 86 Zimmerman & West, 75 Dubois & Crouch, 75 no clear empirical data Results womenh + = group exhibited more of the variable than the other group. = no significant difference.

3 88 COUNICATION REPORTS Past findings of sex differences may be spurious for at least two reasons. First, they may be due to nonindependence. Studies of sex differences typically include data from both members of a dyad in the same analysis and analyze the data using individual as the unit of analysis and statistics that assume independent observations. However, it is likely that partners' behaviors are not independent but correlated. If the individual is the unit of analysis the independence assumption is likely to be violated and the significance test results are likely to be misleading. Specifically, when the correlation between partners' behavior is positive the statistical test of gender is too conservative (too many Type II errors), meaning that the F or t statistic will be too small and a researcher may conclude that the effect is not significant when it is significant. When the correlation is negative the test is too liberal (too many Type I errors), meaning that the F or t statistic will be too large and a researcher may conclude that the effect of gender is significant when it is not (Kenny, 1988). Second, past studies of sex differences typically test the effect of sex of subject while ignoring the effect of sex of partner and the interaction of sex of subject and sex of partner. The statistical test for sex of subject does not distinguish females paired with females from females paired with males, and vice versa. If females are found to engage in more or less of a particular behavior, there is no way of determining whether sex of subject is significant regardless of sex of partner (i.e., a main effect) or whether sex of subject depends on sex of partner (i.e., an interaction effect). For example, Dindia (1987) tested the effect of sex of subject, sex of partner and the interaction effect. She found no main effect of sex of subject (men did not interrupt more than women) or sex of partner (women did not get internipted more than men). Instead, she found a significant interaction effect, mixed-sex dyads interrupted more than same-sex dyads. Given the foregoing methodological concerns, the current study seeks to examine the 11 communication behaviors to clarify some of the confusion existing in the sex difference literature. We seek to do this by (a) treating the dyad as the unit of analysis and (b) testing the effects of sex of subject, sex of partner and their interaction. Proceeding in this fashion has two important theoretic implications. First, description is a critical pre-theoretical step (Gottman, 1979). If we are unable to reliably describe women's and men's communication behaviors, we will be unclear in our attempts to theorize about them. Second, most of the theories explaining men's and women's communication are founded on the assumption of difference between the sexes. If, in fact, men and women do not differ on any or all of these variables, our theories will have to accommodate this shift in assumption. Therefore, this study proposes to examine the following research question: What are the effects of sex of subject, sex of partner, and the interaction of sex of subject and partner on the following 11 verbal communication behaviors: number of words spoken, vocalized pauses, verbal fillers, interruptions, overlaps, justifiers, intensifiers, qualifiers, questions, tag questions, and agreement?

4 SUER ETHOD Subjects in the study were 80 undergraduates (40 males and 40 females) enrolled in introductory communication courses at a large, midwestern, urban university. Each subject was randomly assigned a same-sex or other-sex partner such that there were 10 female-female, 20 female-male, and 10 male-male dyads. All the dyadic partners were strangers. Each subject participated in a five-minute problem-focused conversation with his or her partner. The conversations were videotape recorded. A topic of current significant interest on campus was assigned to be discussed. The topic was the university's current financial crisis. Students were asked to discuss how they would solve the problem. Specifically, they were asked to discuss three options that had been proposed by the Regents. They were (1) to seek more money from the legislature, (2) to increase tuition, and/or (3) to reduce enrollment. The topic was being discussed regularly on campus and multiple articles concerning the topic appeared in campus and city newspapers. Although five minutes is a relatively short time for discussion, because the topic was so salient for the participants, we observed that the majority of dyads spent the full period discussing without pauses or irrelevant small talk. oreover, since we were not interested in their resolution of the problem, five minutes was considered sufficient to observe sample interaction between the partners. Coding System The five-minute conversations were coded using videotape playback and transcripts. The following speech behaviors were coded: number of words, vocalized pauses, verbal fillers, interruptions and overlaps, justifiers, intensifiers, and qualifiers, questions, tag questions, and agreements. The operational definitions for these variables are located in Table 2. Data Analysis The effects of sex of subject, sex of partner, and their interaction were tested using the Kraemer-Jacklin statistic (Kenny, 1988; Kraemer & Jacklin, 1979). This statistic estimates and tests the main effects of sex of subject, sex of partner, and the interaction of sex of subject and sex of partner using a generalization of the matched-pair t-test that corrects for between-pair correlation. The Kraemer-Jacklin statistic estimates the level of dependency between subject and partner behaviors and takes this dependency into account before estimating and testing the effects of sex of subject, sex of partner, and their interaction. Analyses were conducted for the frequency of speech behaviors that were classified in each of the categories. The results for each of these tests are not independent. A multivariate extension of the Kraemer and Jacklin statistic exists (endoza & Graziano, 1982); however, no computer program exists to employ this procedure (endoza & Graziano, personal communication). The

5 90 COUNICATION REPORTS TABLE 2 Categories of Speech Events Code Definition vocalized pauses "ah", "er", "um", etc. number of words number of complete words verbal fillers relatively meaningless words and/or phrases thatfilla silence, for example, "you know" interruptions* simultaneous speech in which a listener speaks at a point that was not a possible completion point for the speaker's utterance (Sacks, Schelegoff, & Jefferson, 1974) overlaps simultaneous speech in which a listener speaks at or very close to a possible transition place or ending point in the speaker's talk questions a sentence with an interrogative form tag questions a sentence with a declarative or imperative form with an interrogative dependent clause tacked on, for example, "It's a nice day, isn't it?" intensifiers words that increase the intensity of the following word in the sentence, for example, "so," "awfully," "quite" justifiers evidence of reason given for a statement, for example, "I believe they should do it because it's a fair way to go." qualifiers words that modify or soften the effect of what comes next, for example, "pretty good," "kind of fun," "almost correct." agreement direct statement of agreement with panner, for example, "you're right," "I agree" NOTE. Interruptions were seen as separate from back channels which might also be seen as simultaneous speech. Interruptions were conceptualized as bids for the floor, while back channels were not. Back channels were not coded because not enough prior research had tested this variable. disadvantages of the univariate approach are control of experimentwise Type 1 error rates and the detection of effects that might not be present in any single dependent variable by itself but that are present in the overall data set (endoza & Graziano, \9S2). Alpha was set at.05, two-tailed test. A total of 33 statistical tests were conducted (11 behaviors times 3 effects: sex of subject, sex of partner, and the interaction effect of sex of subject and sex of partner). With (alpha =.05), experimentwise type I error rate for this study would be fewer than two (1.65) significant effects due to chance. Reliability RESULTS Graduate and undergraduate research assistants were trained to code the data. The research assistants were initially provided with written conceptual definitions and specific examples of each of the communication variables. Then they proceeded to code under supervision until they were deemed reliable. Interrater reliability was assessed by having one trained observer code all the data and another trained observer code a coven sample of 25% of the data (10 conversations).' Pearson Product oment Correlations were

6 SUER TABLE 3 eans of Behaviors by Sex of Subject and Sex of Partner Behavior ale Partners ale Subjects Female Partners ale Partners Female Subjects Female Partners Vocalized Pauses Number of Words Verbal Fillers Overlaps Interruptions Justifiers Agreement Intensifiers Qualifiers employed as an index of observer reliability. The reliability estimates were as follows: vocalized pauses =.98, number of words, =.97, verbal fillers =.78, interruptions =.72, overlaps =.68, questions =.95, tag questions =.63, justifiers =.71, intensifiers =.97, qualifiers =.97, and agreement =.87. Descriptive Statistics The means and standard deviations for frequency of behaviors by sex of subject and sex of partner are located in Table 3. Sex Differences The Kraemer-Jacklin statistic was employed to test the effect of sex of subject, sex of partner, and their interaction on each of the dependent variables. A total of six significant results (plus one marginally significant result) were found, which was greater than would be expected due to chance.

7 92 COUNICATION REPORTS Sex of subject had a significant effect on four behaviors: justifiers iz = 2.01), intensifiers {z = 3.23), agreement iz = 2.04) and vocalized pauses (z = -3.24). As demonstrated in Table 3, females engaged in more justifiers, intensifiers, and agreement than males whereas, males engaged in more vocalized pauses than females. Sex of partner also had a significant effect on vocalized pauses (z = -2.06). As demonstrated in Table 3, males received more vocalized pauses than females. Tbe interaction effect of sex of subject and sex of partner had a significant effect on overlaps (z = -2.15), and a marginally significant effect on interruptions (z = -1.93, p = 06). As indicated in Table 3, there were fewer overlaps and slightly fewer interruptions in same- versus mixed-sex dyads. DISCUSSION Taken together, the results of our study point to some interesting conclusions about gender and communication. First, in these task discussions, there were some sex of subject effects on verbal behavior, but very few. In this study women exhibited greater use of justifiers, intensifiers, and agreement than men. en displayed more vocalized pauses than women. Women and men displayed these behaviors regardless of the sex of their partner. Women's greater use of agreement is consistent with the theoretical perspective that describes women as more positive in communication encounters, specifically, in initial interactions. This literature draws on the notion that women are reinforced for being more "other-directed and nurturant" (Haslett, 1983, p. 128) than men. Tbe finding that women use more intensifiers than men is congruent with the most consistent set of results in this review. Our finding concerning women's greater use of justifiers supports ulac et al.'s (1988) results. Taking these three variables together suggests at least two interpretations of women's verbal behaviors in task discussions. One explanation is consistent with the dominance/submission hypothesis. In this perspective, women may be seen as feeling one-down in conversations and, thus, use justifiers, intensifiers and agreement to compensate for their feelings of relative powerlessness. It is important to note, that in these data men did not exhibit the traditional dominant behaviors (talk time, interruptions, etc.), so women may have internalized this one down position. However, women exhibited these behaviors in conversation regardless of the sex and behavior of their partner. Alternatively, justifiers, intensifiers and agreement may be interpreted as indicators of conversational involvement and support. In such an interpretation, women may be seen as more involved and participatory conversationalists rather than less powerful speakers. ore research should test these competing explanations.

8 SUER en in this sample may be viewed as more uncomfortable in task discussions with both women and men than women. This conclusion is supported by the fact that men exhibited more vocalized pauses than women in this sample. Vocalized pauses are commonly perceived as manifestations of discomfort and a lack of fluency in the situation (Pearson, 1985). However, this assertion has to be qualified by the fact that men did not use more verbal fillers than women in this data set. There was one difference attributable to sex of partner in this sample. ale partners were the recipients of more vocalized pauses than female partners. Thus males, in this sample, were both the speakers and receivers of more vocalized pauses than females. Given the interpretation usually applied to the use of vocalized pauses, we may conclude that males are both more uncertain speakers than females (in this context) and, may make partners (both males and females) more uncertain or uncomfortable in the task context. Possibly people feel this uncertainty or discomfort with male partners because males are less involved or less supportive interactants than females. Finally, the interaction effect of sex of subject and sex of partner indicated that mixed-sex dyads contained more overlaps and marginally more interruptions than same-sex dyads. Similar to Dindia (1987), men did not interrupt more than women (sex of speaker) and women did not get interrupted more than men (sex of partner). There were more interruptions and overlaps in mixed-sex dyads, both female-male and male-female, than in same-sex dyads, both female-female and male-male. If interruptions and overlaps function as dominance cues, then mixed-sex discussions may be a context where both men and women feel that dominance is important. Dominance would appear not as salient for people speaking with partners of the same sex. However, it is also possible that interruptions and overlaps function as confirming responses or indicators of conversational involvement. In this case, mixed-sex task discussions may be more involving to interactants than same-sex discussions. Additionally, overlaps may be interpreted as errors in turn-taking. Problem-solving discussions may be contexts where women and men operate with different rules and therefore errors such as overlaps should be expected (Tannen, 1986). Implications for future research Our results confirm the importance of using a methodology that enables us to test the separate effects of sex of subject, sex of partner and their interaction. For example, our results show that women use more justifiers, intensifiers and agreement regardless of the sex of their conversational partner. This helps to validate past studies with similar results, because significant results in the past could not unambiguously be attributed to the speaker, her partner or the interaction of the two. Our results show that men do not interrupt more than women, nor do women get interrupted more

9 94 COUNICATION REPORTS than men. This casts doubt on past results regarding interruptions and overlaps which have mainly shown that men do more interrupting and overlapping. Using Kraemer-Jacklin (1979), we found, like Dindia (1987) that although interruptions were asymmetrically distributed in mixed-sex dyads, it was not the male who interrupted more. Future research can improve on our approach in the following ways. First, the function of the communication behavior should be investigated. Because explanations of sex difference vary depending on the purpose of the communication behavior, it is critical to understand how communicators are using specific behaviors functionally. It may be the case, as Tannen (1986) asserts, that men and women use the same communication behaviors for different reasons. Second, future researchers should attempt multivariate extensions of the Kraemer-Jacklin test when programs become available. Third, multiple contexts should be examined in future research. We cannot be sure that our results would be replicated in different situations, with different topics, or with a different population. Interactions between strangers are generally more polite than those between intimates. Our results may only generalize to encounters between strangers, and may simply indicate that women are somewhat more polite in these situations than men. Further, it may be the case that as university students, women and men are more similar than they are at any other time in the life span. Thus, our study should be replicated with participants from different populations, placed in different situations. When intimates discuss more personal topics it is possible that more pronounced sex differences might surface. The results of our study indicate that women and men differ from one another in their use of some communication behaviors. Examining the effect of sex of partner and the interaction of sex of subject and sex of partner adds further to a description and understanding of the ways women and men communicate. Building careful descriptions of male/female communication behaviors, advances our ability to explain them. ENDNOTE 1. Because tag questions were infrequently exhibited in these data, we used 20 conversations, or 50% of the data, in order to obtain a reliability estimate for that variable. REFERENCES Baird, J. E. (1976). Sex differences in group communication: A review of relevant research. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 62, Crosby, F. & Nyquist, L. (1977). The female register: An empirical study of Lakoff s hypotheses. Language in Society, 6, Dindia, K. (1987). The effects of sex of subject and sex of partner on interruptions. Human Communication Research, 13, Dubois, B. L. & Crouch, 1. (1975). The question of tag questionsin women's speech: They don't really use more of them, do they? Language in Society, 4,

10 SUER Eakins, B. & Eakins, G. (1976). Verbal turn-taking and exchangesin faculty dialogue. In B.L. Dubois and I. Crouch (Eds.) Papers in southwest English IV. Proceedings of the languages of American women. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press. Eakins, B. & Eakins, G. (1978). Sex differences in human communication. Boston: Houghton ifhin. Fishman, P.. (1978). Interactional shitwork. Heresies, 2, Gottman, J. (1979). arital interaction: Experimental investigations. New York: Academic Press. Hall, J. A. (1984). Nonverbal sex differences. Baltimore, D: John Hopkins University Press. Haslett, B. (1983). Communicative functions and strategies in children's conversations. Human Communication Research, 9, Hirschman, L. (1975). Female-male differences in conversational interaction. In B. Thome and N. Henley (Eds.), Language and sex: Differences and dominance. Rowley, A: Newbury House. Jespersen, O. (1922). Language: Itsnature, development and origin. London: Allen and Unwin. Johnson, F. L. (1983). Political and pedagogical implications of attitudes towards women's language. Communication Quarterly, 31, Kennedy, C. W. & Camden, C. T. (1983). A new look at interruptions. Westem Journal of Communication, 47, Kenny, D. A. (1988). The analysis of data from two-person relationships. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships (pp. 51-l?i). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. Kraemer, H. C. & Jacklin, C. N. (1979). Statistical analysis of dyadic social behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 86, Kramarae, C. (1981). Women and men speaking. Rowley, A: Newbury House. Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman'splace. New York: Harper and Row. cillan, J. R., Clifton, A. K., cgrath, D., & Gale, W. S. (1977).Women's language: Uncenainty or interpersonal sensitivity and emotionality? Sex Roles, 3, endoza, J. L. & Graziano, W. G. (1982). The statistical analysis of dyadic social behavior: A multivariate approach. Psychological Bulletin, 92, ulac, A. & Lundell, T. L. (1986). Linguistic contributors to the gender-linked language effect. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 5, ulac, A., Lundell, T. L., & Bradac, J.J. (1986). ale/female language differences and attributional consequences in a public speaking situation: Toward an explanation of the gender-linked language effect. Communication onographs, 53, ulac, A., Wiemann, J.., Widenmann, S. J., & Gibson, T. W. (1988). ale/female language differences and effects in same-sex and mixed sex dyads: The gender-linked language effect. Communication onographs, 55, Parsons, E. C. (1913). The old-fashioned woman: Primitive fancies about the sex. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Pearson, J. C. (1985). Gender and communication. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown. Pearson, J. C, Turner, L. H. Todd-ancillas, W. R. (1991). Gender and communication (2nd edition). Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown. Reis, H. T., Senchak,., & Solomon, B. (1985). Sex differences in the intimacy of social interaction: Further examination of potential explanations./orwa/ of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, Sayers, F. & Sherblom, J. (1987). Qualification in male language as influenced by age and gender of conversational partner. Communication Research Reports, 4, Schultz, K., Briere, J., & Sandier, L. (1984). The use and development of sex-typed language. Psychology cf Women Quarterly, 8, Smythe,. J. & Huddleston, B. (1992). Competition and collaboration: ale and female communication patterns during dyadic interactions. In L. Perry, L. Turner, & H. Sterk (Eds.), Constructing and reconstructing gender (pp ). Buffalo, NY: SUNY Press. Smythe,. J. & Schlueter, D. W. (1986). Can we talk? A meta-analytic review of the sex differences in language literature. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender, Washington, D.C. Staley, C. (1982). Sex related differences in the style of children's language. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 11,

11 96 COUNICATION REPORTS Stopes, C. C. (1908). The sphere of "man": In relation to that of "woman" in the Constitution. London: T. Fisher Unwin. Tannen, D. (1986). That's not what I meant! New York: William orrow. West, C. & Zimmerman, D. (1983). Small insults: A study of interruptions in cross-sex conversations between unacquainted persons. In B. Thome, C. Kramarae, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language, gender and society (pp ). Rowley, A: Newbury House. Wiemann, J.., ulac, A., Zimmerman, D., & ann, S. K. (1987). Interruption patterns in same-gender and mixed-gender dyadic conversations. Paper presented at the Third Intemational Conference on Social Psychology and Language, Bristol, England. Zimmerman, D. & West, C. (1975). Sex roles, interruptions, and silences in conversation. In B. Thome & N. Henley (Eds.). Language and sex: Differences and dominance ( ). Rowley, A: Newbury House.

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