Friday, April 3, 2015

Women interrupt women more often than men interrupt women

A comment from a post by Ann Althouse, "People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it."
David said...
The notion that women won't interrupt is a riot. Some of the best interrupters I've ever known have been women. Some interrupt out of anxiety. Some out of assertiveness. Men are similar.

It's interesting how different men and women can be in same sex groups. Three men having a conversation will riff off of each other, but generally will let the other make a point and then respond. Perhaps this comes from men's more pervasive experience in the commercial world. Women with commercial experience tend to act as the men do.

On the other hand, I have frequently seen groups of three or four women all talking at once. Not just for a moment or two but for the entire conversation. They may even be saying essentially the same thing. The amazing thing is, they actually seem to understand each other through all this.

The above assume two factors: (1) sobriety and (2) roughly equal social status. Remove either of those, especially the sobriety, and all bets are off.

(Personal observations only. No scientific rigor claimed. But I have been observing for a long time.}

3/31/15, 9:03 AM
As often is the case, we are overanalyzing the simple absence of home training and good manners.

But I like David's point. The occasional research I read about language dynamics and interruptions often are small sample sizes, artificial circumstances and small effect sizes when they show effects at all.

From New Republic last year, Women Get Interrupted More—Even By Other Women by Alice Robb.

Reporting on this particular study, Robb observes:
In contrast with previous research, Hancock and Rubin didn’t find any significant differences in the way men and women spoke—but they did find that having male or female conversation partners elicited different results. “When speaking with a female, participants interrupted more and used more dependent clauses than when speaking with a male,” they wrote. Over the course of each three-minute conversation, women, on average, interrupted men just once, but interrupted other women 2.8 times. Men interrupted their male conversation partner twice, on average, and interrupted the woman 2.6 times.
Amusing finding but, as with most other such studies, of negligible value. Small sample size, artificial conditions, small effect size.

To get at the core claim which gender interrupts which gender more often and under what conditions, you would have to have much larger sample sizes across a much broader range of circumstances - in a business environment peer to peer, in a business environment in a conference meeting, in social circumstances, in mutual team tasks, in a domestic setting, etc.

Were we to do such a study, I suspect that A) the effect size is truly quite small and B) the findings will likely be nuanced and to some degree, unexpected.

But back to David's point. Men (when sober) in both social environments, and in business environments, will often engage in what might be called additive conversations. One starts a point, another interrupts and refines or adds to it, then a third will interrupt before the point is closed and either partially refute an earlier argument or add yet further to the core point. In social environments, particularly humorous ones, there is also a lot of interrupting for humorous effect. In other words, there is often a lot of interruption but it is different from interruptions that are intended to block a point or take over a conversation.

That's a pretty sophisticated nuance that I rarely see addressed in the study designs.

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