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For Greater Gender Equality, Introduce Yourself Online

New Canadian research finds that when men and women get to know one another in an online chat, gender differences usually found in face-to-face conversations are strikingly absent.
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We increasingly exchange information in bursts of written text online. In the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, two University of Toronto psychologists report this technology-driven shift may be altering the content of our communications, in both welcome and less-welcome ways.

One hundred and twenty-two undergrads were paired into male-female couples and instructed to spend a half-hour getting to know one another, either via an Internet chat or face-to-face discussion. Online, the often-documented gender difference in communication styles—in which women tend to be more deferential and compromising—disappeared.

"Although this limited evidence should not be taken as suggesting social leveling in general through the medium of online communication, it does point to the significance of visual and auditory cues in sustaining a number of well-documented gender differences in conversational manner," write psychologists Maciek Lipinski-Harden and Romin Tafarodi.

Less happily, both men and women who were texting referred more frequently to themselves, and asked fewer questions about what their partner had just said.

"The greater frequency of self-referring statements and lower frequency of questions about the other's immediately preceding statement in online communication than in face-to-face can be taken to reflect the greater self-focus...that is invited by the invisibility and inaudibility of the partner in online communication," the researchers conclude.

As I was saying before being interrupted by your emoticon....