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CURRENT RESEARCH IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY


CURRENT RESEARCH IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

Volume 1, Number 6

Submitted March 12, 1996 
Resubmitted April 1, 1996 
Resubmitted April 26, 1996 
Accepted April 29, 1996 
Publication Date: May 14, 1996

"FEMININE SPEECH" IN HOMOGENEOUS GENDER GROUPS*

      Robert K. Shelly
      Ohio University

ABSTRACT

A characteristic "feminine speech" style has been identified as an 
ideal type, either using tag questions or rising inflections at the end 
of declarative sentences or actually stating task contributions as 
questions. This style has been characterized as part of the feminine 
role repertoire socialized in American society. Data from seventy 
three-person open interaction task groups are used to test the idea 
that this behavior pattern is a role style, with women enacting the 
behavior more than men. Results indicate that men and women initiate 
this behavior at a similar rate in the homogeneous gender groups 
studied, suggesting that this behavior reflects status patterns of the 
larger society enacted in heterogeneous task settings, but not in 
homogeneous gender settings.

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INTRODUCTION

   Lakoff (1975) and Tannen (1994) describe a feminine interaction 
style with verbal characteristics distinct from a masculine interaction 
style. These characteristics include a greater use of verbal tags such 
as "...don't you think?" or "That is a good idea, isn't it?" Women are 
also thought to be more likely to employ verbalizations that imply a 
question, with rising inflection placed on the end of a declarative 
statement. But how and under what conditions is this set of behavior 
observed? Is it truly a feminine pattern of behavior, or is it 
observable in particular situations in both genders? This paper 
examines interaction in homogeneous task groups to answer the question 
of whether the behavior is a "feminine style" or is observable for 
both females and males under different circumstances.

   Researchers report a variety of effects of gender in interaction in 
task groups. These effects, involving both verbal and nonverbal 
behavior, have been reported in heterogeneous and homogeneous groups. 
In general, men are reported to be more task-oriented than women 
(Strodtbeck and Mann, 1956; Nemeth, Endicott, and Wachtler, 1976; 
Aries, 1976; Borgatta and Stimson, 1963; Craig and Sheriff, 1986; 
Kelley, Wildman, and Urey, 1982; Lockheed and Hall, 1976; Mabry, 1985; 
Piliavin and Martin, 1978; Wood and Karten, 1986), and more likely to 
display high status interaction cues such as chin thrusts and looking 
while speaking than women (Dovidio, Brown, Heltman, Ellyson, and 
Keating, 1988; Dovidio, Ellyson, Keating, Heltman, and Brown, 1988; 
Carli, 1990). Women are more likely to engage in socioemotional 
behavior, be more concerned with social process (Piliavin and Martin, 
1978; Lakoff, 1975; Tannen, 1995), smile more, and display low status 
cues such as looking while listening and withdrawn posture (Dovidio, et 
al., 1988; Dovidio, et al., 1988).

EXPLANATIONS

   Two explanations have been advanced for the research results 
reviewed above. One emphasizes the feminine role, with an associated 
interaction style (Lakoff, 1975; Eagly and Karan, 1991; Maccoby, 1990; 
Tannen, 1995). This explanation asserts men and women are socialized to 
play particular gender roles in society, that this socialization 
creates trans-situational behavior repertoires, and that these 
repertoires are activated in most interaction situations, regardless of 
the situation or gender composition of the groups in the situation. 
These behavior repertoires include verbal behaviors, such as the use of 
tag questions and the demonstration of a willingness to agree with 
assertions of others, and nonverbal behaviors, such as smiling, gaze, 
and posture.

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   The other explanation asserts that observed differences in both 
interpersonal behavior and interaction cues such as verbal style, 
posture, and gaze are due to the instantiation of status differences 
from the larger society into the task group. Thus, the relative 
advantages of males and females in society are reflected in task 
groups, with females enacting a low status role and males enacting a 
high status role in situations in heterogeneous groups. In homogeneous 
groups, males and females should exhibit no differences in behaviors or 
interaction style. This approach has been developed by Berger and 
others in expectation states theory (Wagner and Berger, 1995; Ridgeway, 
1988; 1991; Ridgeway and Diekema, 1992; Shelly and Munroe, 1994).

   According to this explanation, behavioral differences are observed 
when status differences are activated in task groups. One situation in 
which such differences are activated occurs when males and females are 
in heterogeneous task groups. Because of their higher social standing, 
males exhibit more high-status verbal and nonverbal behaviors than 
females in heterogeneous groups. Males talk more, exert influence, look 
more while speaking, and sit forward in their chairs. Similarly, 
females talk less, accept influence, look while listening, and sit back 
in their chairs.

   In homogeneous groups, there should be no difference in verbal or 
nonverbal behavior due to the gender of the participants in the groups. 
Males and females should talk the same amount, be equally likely to 
exercise influence or be influenced, look while speaking, or look while 
listening. Other status organizing structures may produce these 
effects, but gender should not lead to behavioral differences in 
homogeneous groups.

   According to expectation states theory, the distinct interaction 
style associated with females in heterogeneous groups is a status 
effect, due to a lower standing of women in society and not a 
socialized pattern of role behavior. But, if gender is not activated in 
task groups, then males and females should employ verbal acts at the 
same rate in homogeneous task groups.

   Hypothesis: In task groups, males and females should employ verbal
   tags, such as questions at the end of declaratives and rising tone 
   of voice at the end of declaratives, at different rates. That is, 
   males should employ this behavior less than females.

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METHOD

   The data used to test the hypothesis consist of observations of 
interaction in seventy gender-homogeneous, three-person task groups 
(thirty-four male groups, thirty-six female groups). The groups were 
composed of undergraduate students at a state university who met to 
solve the NASA "Lost on the Moon Exercise" (Johnson and Johnson, 
1994). The groups were distributed equally across seven conditions 
designed to test how different imposed social structures affect 
interaction. The conditions included a control condition in which no 
manipulation was carried out, a condition in which liking for others 
was manipulated, a condition in which an authority position was 
created, a condition in which skills of participants were varied, a 
condition in which the authority position was occupied by a highly 
skilled person, a condition in which the authority position was 
occupied by a well liked person, and a condition in which the skilled 
person was well liked. A more detailed discussion of the techniques 
employed in the experiment appears in Shelly and Munroe (1994).

   The independent variables are the sex of the group members, the 
condition of the experiment as an organizing structure, and the 
position of the actor (advantage with respect to others in the group).

   Measures of interaction were coded from video tapes of each group. 
Discussion lasted from ten to twenty minutes per group. All discussions 
concluded when consensus had been reached about the best solution to 
the problem. The coding identified statements with the following 
properties as verbal tags (TAG):(1) a declarative content, but ending 
with a tag question (e.g., "I think we should put the rope next, don't 
you?"); (2) statements that are declarative in content, but ending with 
a rising inflection (e.g., "I think the gun goes next (rise in tone of 
voice)."); (3) a response to a question that contains a suggestion for 
a task solution, but phrased as a question (e.g., (Q) "What should we 
put next?" (A) "What about the rope?"); and (4) a directly stated 
question that offers a solution to a task problem (e.g., "Should we put 
the rope next?").

   Two individuals coded independently of one another. The reliability 
analysis compared the constituent parts of the coding to one another 
and the total tagged activity, arriving at a Cronbach's alpha of .775. 
This is a moderate reliability compared to other studies of face-to-
face interaction that report values above .90.

RESULTS

   The individual measures of tagged interaction were summed to arrive 
at a total number of tags per actor (TAG). This ranged from zero to 
fifteen acts, with a mean of 3.64 and a median of 3.0.

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   Two other measures may be created from this measure and its place in 
the total interaction in the group. One is the percent of each actor's 
own initiations that are tagged (PCTTAG), which measures the extent to 
which a person is consistently deferential to others in a task group. 
The range for this measure is zero to twenty seven percent, with a mean 
of 4.66 and a median of 3.74.

   The second measure is the percent of total activity in a group 
accounted for by tagged activity by an individual, which indicates how 
much an individual might stand out by using tagged speech in 
interaction (TAGPCTTOT). This variable has a range from zero to thirty 
one percent, with a mean of 2.29 and median of 1.44.

   The simplest test of the hypothesis is to compare means for males 
and females for tagged speech (TAG). Comparing means for the percent of 
own speech that is tagged (PCTTAG) provides a test normed on the actor. 
Comparing means for the percent t of total group speech tagged 
(TAGPCTTOT) allows a test of the hypothesis normed on the group. The 
results of these tests are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Means of tagged speech measures by sex.

    Sex      TAG     PCTTAG      TAGPCTTOT

    Male     3.43     4.92       2.73
    (N=102)
    Female   3.84     4.40       1.87
    (N=108)
    T-test  t=-1.02   t=.95     t=1.85
            p=.308    p=.342    p=.066

It is clear that in these homogeneous groups, females do not generate 
significantly more verbal tags than males. This is true for the 
frequency with which this behavior is generated (TAG). Females initiate 
slightly more behavior of this sort, but a goodness of fit 
interpretation of the t-test would suggest that this behavior is 
initiated at the same rate for each gender (p=.308).

   For both percentage measures, males initiate more activity, though 
the results are not significantly different for either measure. A 
goodness of fit interpretations for the percent of a person's activity 
generated (PCTTAG) would suggest no difference between males and 
females on this behavioral measure (p=.342). Males initiate a higher 
percentage of total interaction than females as tagged activity 
(TAGPCTTOT), though this difference is not significant at the usual 
level.

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   If a directional hypothesis is formulated for tagged activity as a 
percentage of total interaction, with males expected to generate more 
of this activity than females, the result (males=2.73% versus 
females=1.87%) is significant at the .05 level. This is a direct 
reversal of the gender hypothesis I set out to test.

   The possibility of interactions between the sex of the group and the 
imposed structure is examined to determine if females and males behave 
differently in some situations but not others. An analysis of variance 
tests this hypothesis. The ANOVA identifies two statistically 
significant main effects and one significant interaction between gender 
and condition. One main effect is for position: being in the relative 
advantaged position versus the disadvantaged position makes it more 
likely the actor will engage in tagged speech (X(a)=4.17 versus 
X(d)=3.38, F=5.494; 1 d.f., p=.02). There is also a statistically 
significant effect for condition of the experiment, with tagged 
behavior more likely in Skill at task and Authority and Skill 
conditions (F=7.062, 6 d.f., p=.00). Table 2 presents the results for 
TAG for such an analysis. Analysis of the PCTTAG and TAGPCTTOT produce 
similar results.

Table 2. Means of tagged speech (TAG) by sex and imposed structure.

    Condition   Total Tags   Male    Female

    Control        3.93      3.40      4.47
                            (N=15)     (N=15)

    Formal         2.37      2.33      2.42
    Authority               (N=18)     (N=12)

    Liking         3.13      2.58      3.50
                            (N=12)     (N=18)

    Skill          5.30***   2.53      8.07*,**
    at task                 (N=15)     (N=15)

    Authority      2.50      2.00      3.00
    and Liking              (N=15)     (N=15)

    Skill          3.37      3.73      3.00
    and Liking              (N=15)     (N=15)

    Authority      4.90***   8.50*,**  2.50
    and Skill               (N=12)     (N=18)

* Significantly different from the opposite sex actor in this 
condition. This comparison is by Tukey test for significant 
differences.

** Significantly different from the other conditions in this sex. This 
comparison is by Tukey test for significant differences.

*** The mean for the Skill condition is significantly different than 
the means for the Authority, Authority and Liking, and Liking 
Condition. The mean for the Authority and Skill condition is 
significantly different from the means for the Authority and Authority 
and Liking Conditions. This comparison is by Tukey test for differences. 

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   The introduction of manipulations for structures in these groups 
does not alter the result that males and females do not differ in the 
rate at which they initiate tagged speech. But there are two conditions 
for which this is not true. Females in the Skill condition initiate 
more tagged speech than either males in this condition or females in 
other structures. Males in the Authority and Skill condition initiate 
more tagged speech in this condition than males in other conditions as 
well.

   Controlling for the rate of initiation by examining the percentage 
of tagged speech does not alter these conclusions for PCTTAG. There is 
an interaction effect observable in the Authority condition for 
TAGPCTTOT. Females assigned to the Authority condition initiate more 
tagged speech than do males as a percentage of their total interaction 
(.85 percent of total activity for males versus 1.59 percent of total 
activity for females).

   Overall, males and females initiate tagged speech at the same rate 
in these homogeneous gender task groups. Effects observed in imposed 
social structures show advantaged actors employ the speech style more 
than disadvantaged actors. Interactions with gender and imposed 
structures show complementary results with females engaging in this 
behavior more in one condition of the experiment and males in another. 
Differences between males and females are not significant in the other 
five conditions of the study. Females initiate more tagged behavior as 
a percentage of total interaction, but in only one condition of the 
experiment. The task of explaining these results remains.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

   The question I set out to answer was whether tagged speech can be 
thought of as a distinct interaction style, characteristic of one 
gender. The alternative interpretation is that such speech 
distinguishes one gender from another only when gender is activated as 
a status characteristic. This alternative suggests males and females in 
task groups will exhibit such interaction patterns differentially only 
in heterogeneous groups, and not in homogeneous groups. This is the 
overall finding for the seventy groups studied for this report: males 
and females behave the same in this study.

   Males and females initiate tagged speech, the "feminine style," at 
the same rate in homogeneous groups, no matter how the activity is 
measured (simple frequency, normed on the actor, or normed on the 
group). Some interaction effects are observed in various imposed social 
structures, but these effects are observed in male groups in one 
structure and in female groups in another structure. There are no 
differences in rate of initiation of tagged speech in the other five 
types of groups. Thus the conclusion is that tagged speech is not a 
"feminine speech" style socialized in gender roles.

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   Two explanations for these results are possible. One is that actors 
seek to "sugarcoat" task activity if legitimation of task action is 
suspect. This would account for the results cited by Tannen (1994) and 
others, and is consistent with the results described above. The 
activity would thus have differential meaning as suggested by Ridgeway 
and Diekema (1992): high status actors employ the behavior under some 
conditions, and low status actors employ it under other circumstances.

   Another possibility is that tagged behavior is a status cue (Berger, 
Webster, Ridgeway, and Rosenholtz, 1986). Task cues, verbal and 
nonverbal acts, provide information about an actor's capacity to 
perform a task. Tagged behavior communicates such information (Newcombe 
and Arnkoff, 1979). A well designed experiment in which male and female 
actors reproduce tagged and untagged speech patterns in attempting to 
influence subjects would provide a strong test of tagged speech as a 
status cue. Such a study would advance our understanding of how men 
and women interact with members of the same sex and members of the 
opposite sex and the meanings they attach to verbal and nonverbal 
interaction behavior.

ENDNOTE

*Research reported here was supported in part by grants from Ohio 
University Research Challenge Funds and from DAAL03-86-D-0001 from the 
Naval Training Systems Center. Views, opinions, and findings contained 
in this report are those of the author and should not be construed as 
an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision.

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Robert K. Shelly is Professor of Sociology at Ohio University. He is 
continuing studies of interaction and the formation of expectations, 
and is currently investigating how social structures without socially 
defined status-value organize interaction. Address correspondence to: 
rshelly1@ohiou.edu


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