University of Wolverhampton researchers found that language traits considered to be male or female when spoken are used by both sexes on the social networking website.
Internet psychologist Dr Chris Fullwood took a random sample of 80 profiles on the site, comprising of 40 men and 40 women from the UK, all aged between 18 and 65. The average age for both sexes was 22 years old. He then looked for certain language devices which are considered to be typically masculine or feminine.
Dr Fullwood, from the School of Applied Sciences, said: “In a face-to-face context, women tend to use a more submissive language style, which makes them appear friendlier and more approachable, while men typically use more dominant language devices, for example the use of slang terms and swearing. Considering the notion that the online world is more equal and socially liberating, we wanted to see if these stereotypical devices transferred into an online setting.
“We found that men and women use the language devices equally. The only difference was that women were more likely to use acronyms. The devices we tested were used very frequently on the site, but by members of both sexes. It looks like a style of communication that resembles linguistic androgyny, in other words communication that is influenced by both masculine and feminine aspects of speech.”
Dr Fullwood explained that there were a number of suggestions for why this might be, including members using other people’s profiles as a ‘guide’ to how to write their own and cultural changes (for example, the rise of the ‘ladette’ culture) meaning that women are more likely to swear and use slang terms.
He added: “In addition, online communication is a unique mode of communication, known as “Netspeak” which may eliminate some of the differences in expression between the sexes. It is a more informal style of communication. Also by appearing ‘gender neutral’, website users will appeal to a greater number of people and to both sexes.
“It is hard to say whether this is done consciously or not. With online communication we have more chance to put thought into what we say and how we present ourselves.”
The researchers verified the gender of the participants, and ensured they were real profiles. Dr Fullwood stressed that the findings could not be generalised to all cultures. He added that it would be interesting to look at another social networking site such as Facebook.
Dr Fullwood is a member of the Wolverhampton Internet and Technology Society (WITS) and recently presented his findings in a paper, Linguistic Androgyny in MySpace, at the Cyberspace conference in Brno, in the Czech Republic.
The male language traits were: Discussion of taboo subjects; swearing; slang.
The female traits were: Use of intensifiers (i.e. “that is really nice”); hedges to communicate uncertainty (“sort of”, “I think”, “you know”); tag questions (i.e “it’s sunny today, isn’t it?”); use of emoticons such as smiley faces; use of multiple punctuation and abbreviations.
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