Who talks more, men or women? It actually depends on the situation and who they're talking to. Researchers pitted men versus women based on their level of participation in communication. Who—or what—did all the eavesdropping? A robot wearing a fur-lined hat called Furhat.
A new study details how Furhat monitored the participation of men, women, and children in shared activities. Furhat aimed to analyze the inequality in participation between the sexes, and it also aimed to compensate for these inequalities.
Furhat is a special kind of robot. It is able to track eye movement as well as recognize speech. People can talk to Furhat and expect it to answer. It can even also hold a conversation with two people at once. Scientists at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology designed Furhat to interact almost like a real human being.
With Furhat, researchers were able to monitor the level of participation of men versus women in a shared activity. They found that a woman talks more with another woman than with a man. Meanwhile, two men talk less with each other than two women do. Interestingly, though, young boys and girls don't have distinctions like these when they speak to each other.
The experiments ran for nine days, over which Furhat was able to monitor the conversations of 540 people. The researchers paired participants up and set them to work on solving a puzzle cooperatively. The participants also worked with Furhat, which also tracked how much the participants spoke while they worked together.
On average, women paired with women spoke about 45% of the time. Pairs of men, meanwhile, spoke only 26% of the time. Pairs of men and women spoke 28% of time, with both the man and the woman making around the same contribution to the conversation.
However, things were different when it came to pairs with an adult and a child. In these pairs, the adults spoke significantly more than the children did. When a man was paired with a female child, the man spoke twice as much as the girl did.
So how else does Furhat figure in all of this? When Furhat spoke, it randomly chose one of four options of interaction. It can choose to address the dominant speaker or the non-dominant one. With these options, Furhat can influence the conversation and engage the less dominant partner in the pair. This way, the less dominant partner can contribute more to the conversation about the task at hand.
However, do people actually need Furhat in order to participate in a conversation more? In this case, it was a scientific experiment and not really a real-world interaction. Though the results probably reflect the way conversations go in more natural settings, the robot might have thrown some people off. Many aren't accustomed to interacting with a robot, after all. However, Furhat's abilities can become useful in educational settings or perhaps speech therapy.
What's clear, though, is that in the case of men versus women in conversation, each sex is able to adjust how much they speak depending on the situation.
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