Where the Twain Meets: Sex Similarities in Communication

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Abstract

Reviews the book, Sex Differences and Similarities in Communication (2nd ed.) edited by Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary (see record 2006-03342-000). The reviewer often thinks that all of psychology has evolved (or perhaps devolved) into a nature-nurture debate that is particularly focused on identifying and explaining gender differences that some researchers find in the consideration of any number of human characteristics and behaviors–and this trend is even more pronounced in popular psychology and the media. Indeed, nowadays it is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper without reading that men are better at some important behavior or women are superior at another because one millimeter of male brain tissue seems to function significantly different than the comparable millimeter of tissue in female brains. These types of reports have the effect, of course, of reinforcing ancient stereotypes about women and men, and they fly in the face of a great deal of research that supports the obvious fact that women and men are, in most ways, more similar than different. So gender researchers everywhere heave a collective sigh and are left shaking their heads when faced with this tidal wave of stereotypical oversimplification and distortion that seems to flood the public consciousness on a daily basis. It is within this context that Kathryn Dindia and Daniel J. Canary present this edited volume, Sex Differences and Similarities in Communication (2nd ed.), in the hope of stemming the tide of gender disinformation and stereotyping. The central messages put forth in the distinct majority of the 21 chapters (organized into four separate sections) contained within this volume can be easily summarized as four main points: 1. There are relatively few gender differences in communication, and if they are found, they tend to be small. 2. It is not enough for researchers to indicate that observed differences are statistically significant. Effect sizes must be reported, and journal editors should require them as a part of a study's analysis. Effect sizes routinely reveal that significant differences often are of little practical significance when men and women interact in the real world. 3. Context (e.g., culture, social class) of gender similarities and differences must always be taken into consideration, and current studies are woefully inadequate in providing this kind of comprehensive analysis. 4. There are many theories of gender differences, and each has a considerable body of research to support it. (Unfortunately, however, the editors do not provide a means for helping the reader to determine which theoretical approach is best supported or most useful in any given situation.) Dindia and Canary have done a good job of assembling top-notch researchers, and they have provided a wealth of information about the recent state of the art of gendered communication research–but it will, of course, become dated quickly. As such, this volume will be of interest to anyone who wants a thorough overview of gender similarities and differences in language, nonverbal communication, deception, leadership, romantic relationships, emotional expression, power, and violence, among other topics. This text also provides a good introduction to the key theoretical perspectives about the causes of gender differences, while challenging researchers to conduct better science in the future.

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