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Warmer and friendlier, but more assertive too: study of 67,000 Facebook users reveals gender differences in language

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Amy Swales
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We know that our Facebook status updates reveal a lot about our personalities, but now it appears what we post might influenced by our gender too.

A study of more than 67,000 users exploring “differences in language use across gender, affiliation, and assertiveness” found that women and men use language differently online: women's language is characterised as warm, friendly, compassionate and focused on people, while men's is more socially distant, disagreeable, and focused on objects.

Well, we are more likely to catch a yawn thanks to our caring natures, so probably makes sense.

However, while previous research has indicated assertiveness is more of a male trait, it was found that despite using generally more agreeable, more social language, women actually use slightly more assertive language than men do. Online, at least.

The first part of the research, by a team from US universities Stony Brook University and the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Melbourne, Australia, analysed 10 million messages from more than 52,000 Facebook users.

The team found that topics “most associated with self-identified female participants included friends, family, and social life, whereas topics most associated with self-identified male participants included swearing, anger, discussion of objects instead of people, and the use of argumentative language.”

facebook gender language study

"Stop trying to make me write things online about losing a football battle"

Some of the words linked to women included ‘wonderful’, ‘daughter’ and ‘thankful’, while men's included ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’, ‘lose’ and ‘enemy’.

The paper states: “The most strongly female-linked topics included words describing positive emotions (e.g., ‘excited’, ‘happy’, ‘<3’, ‘love’,), social relationships (e.g., ‘friends’, ‘family’, ‘sister’), and intensive adverbs (e.g., ‘sooo’, ‘sooooo’, ‘ridiculously’).

“Strongly male-linked topics included 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 shooting guns, playing musical instruments, or playing video games.”

PLOS ONEWomen are Warmer but No Less Assertive Than Men: Gender and Language on Facebook

Using a sample of 15,000 users, the team found “substantial gender differences”, writing: “Language used more by self-identified females was interpersonally warmer, more compassionate, polite, and – contrary to previous findings – slightly more assertive in their language use, whereas language used more by self-identified males was colder, more hostile, and impersonal.”

Co-author Dr. Margaret Kern said what we post online could mirror how we tend to “categorise” people in real life: “In many ways, topics most used by women versus men are not surprising – they fit common gender stereotypes.

“The computational methods let us make visible what the human mind does to automatically categorise people and things we encounter in our everyday lives.”

If you don't like being labelled and are now casting about for a new vocabulary, may we suggest some of these words...

Images: iStock

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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.

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