By CHRISTOPHER MELE
Women used warmer, gentler words in their status updates on Facebook compared to men, who were more likely to swear, express anger and use argumentative language, a study of 10 million postings released on Wednesday found.
In a bit of a surprise, the study showed that women used slightly more assertive language, said H. Andrew Schwartz, an assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University and one of its authors.
The study, “Women are Warmer but No Less Assertive Than Men: Gender and Language on Facebook,” was a data-driven analysis of the words used by more than 65,000 Facebook users who gave researchers permission to examine their status updates.
That shift in assertiveness might reflect the cultural and societal changes brought about by a generation that heavily uses social media, saidMargaret L. Kern, a senior lecturer at the
Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne in Australia and one of the study’s authors. In the study, the user’s average age was 26.
“Those conversations have shifted over time,” she said. “On Facebook, people are friends. They’re not talking up or down to each other.”
Women’s writing largely reflected compassion and politeness compared with men, who were hostile and impersonal, according to the study, which Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Kern discussed Tuesday in advance of the release.
The most commonly cited topics by women included words such as “wonderful,” “happy,” “birthday,” “daughter,” “baby,” “excited” and “thankful.” Women were more likely to discuss family and social life, relying on words that described positive emotions, such as “love,” and intensive adverbs, such as “sooo,” “sooooo,” and “ridiculously,” the study said.
Men more frequently discussed topics related to money or work, and favored words tied to politics, sports, competition and activities, such as shooting guns or playing video games. Men commonly used words such as “freedom,” “liberty,” “win,” “lose,” “battle” and “enemy.”
“The differences were interpreted as reflecting a male tendency toward objects and impersonal topics and a female tendency toward psychological and social processes,” the report said.
Psychologists and computer scientists from Stony Brook, the University of Melbourne and the University of Pennsylvania investigated the differences in language by gender. Participants agreed to answer 20 to 100 questions on a Facebook app, MyPersonality, which was run by study collaborators. Those responses allowed researchers to inventory individual users’ personality traits and match that data with words that they frequently used. From that, researchers correlated word frequency and personality traits from the 10 million postings.
Participants agreed to give researchers access to nearly two years of status updates, starting in 2009. For privacy reasons, all the posts were stripped of identifying details about the users, who were between 16 and 64 years old.
The study offered insights into the ways people categorize and label others based on their speech, Ms. Kern said. It also was a data-based way to study social media that could be replicated outside the United States, to see if such gender differences surface in other cultures and societies, she said.
And it gave parents something to think about regarding the words they emphasize with their children.
“The language we use, especially with our kids, that becomes a part of them,” she said. “Perhaps we do use language that encourages girls to be warmer and boys to be less warm.”