Men and women really do speak different languages—at least on Facebook. According to a study published this week in PLOS One, women used warmer, gentler language in their Facebook status updates compared to men, who are more likely to swear, argue, and express anger. More surprising, the study also showed that women used slightly more assertive language, debunking commonly held stereotypes of women being more passive than men.
Researchers at Stony Brook University, the University of Melbourne, and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 10 million Facebook messages of more than 65,000 consenting Facebook users. In the first of two analyses, the investigators looked at status updates from 52,000 men and women between the ages of 16 and 64 to determine at the kinds of language being used, including language common in digital communication such as emoticons (e.g., “:),” “^-^”), non-standard punctuation (e.g., “!!!”), and unconventional spellings and acronyms (e.g., “feelin”, “lol”, “wtf”).
As predicted, they found hundreds of “gender-linked topics” (topics that were consistently used more by one gender than the other). Women were more likely to use words describing positive emotions (e.g., “excited”, “happy”, “<3”, “love”,), social relationships (e.g., “friends”, “family”, “sister”), and intensive adverbs (e.g., “sooo”, “ridiculously”). Men, however, tended to use words related to politics (e.g., “government”, “tax”, “political”), sports and competition (e.g., “football”, “season”, “win,” “battle”), and specific interests or activities, such as playing video games. They were also more likely to use curse words.
In the second analysis, the researchers examined the statuses and messages of 15,000 participants within two interpersonal dimensions: Affiliation and interpersonal warmth versus impersonality and coldness, and assertiveness and dominance versus indirectness and passivity. They then compared how assertive the language used was to how assertive the user ranked on a 100-item personality measure that they had previously completed. Here, they found that women typically were warmer, more compassionate, and slightly more assertive than men online.
It is unclear if this finding marks a societal change in the way women behave, or if women act differently on Facebook than they do IRL.
“It could be a historical shift we are seeing,” Margaret Kern, a co-author of the study and a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, told the Wall Street Journal. “Women are in more leadership roles now, and could be using more domineering language accordingly.” Alternatively, women may be using more assertive language on Facebook because they are primarily interacting with friends and peers.
Either way, women seem to be leaning in on Facebook, and that’s a good thing.
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