Is Silence More Golden for Women than Men? Observers
Derogate Effusive Women and their Quiet Partners
Jennifer Guinn Sellers
Mary Diltz Woolsey
William B. Swann Jr.
Published online: 17 August 2007
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract Couples in which the woman is more verbally
disinhibited than the man (man-more-inhibited couples)
report lower satisfaction than couples in which the man is
more verbally disinhibited (woman-more-inhibited couples).
A violation of traditional gender roles is hypothesized to
underlie this phenomenon. It was predicted that members of
man-more-inhibited couples would be rated less likeable
than woman-more-inhibited couples, and disinhibited men
would be rated more competent than other males and
females. To test these hypotheses, 95 undergraduate partic-
ipants from a southwestern US university viewed a videotaped
conflict between a man-more-inhibited or woman-more-
inhibited couple. As predicted, members of man-more-
inhibited couples were rated less likeable than members of
woman-more-inhibited couples and disinhibited husbands
were rated more competent than all other targets.
Keywords Gender roles
Heterosexual couples in which the man is more verbally
inhibited or submissive than the woman suffer both in terms
of relative lack of satisfaction (Swann et al. 2003, 2006,
2007) and inability to cope with stressors (Swann et al.
2007). Although this “man-more-inhibited” effect appears
to be robust, its antecedents are poorly understood. In this
report, we tested the notion that this phenomenon emerges
because gender role expectations (Eagly 1987) lead people
to expect men to verbally dominate women. That is, we
reasoned that because men are expected to be in a position
of power over women, couples in which the woman is
verbally dominating the man (i.e., man-more-inhibited
couples) ought to be rated more harshly than couples that
adhere to the traditional role of men being in power over
women (i.e., women-more-inhibited couples). To test this
prediction, we had participants view a videotaped conflict
of either a woman-more-inhibited or man-more-inhibited
couple and rate each target’s likeability and competence.
This prediction is intriguing as it suggests that gender-
based power imbalances may not be specific to workplace
demands as past research has shown, but may also
generalize to intimacy based relationships as well.
To put our predictions in context, we begin by discussing
the nature of individual differences in verbal inhibition. We
then consider how such differences may influence the
dynamics of close relationships.
Verbal Inhibition and Relationship Quality
In this report, verbal inhibition is understood in terms of
Swann and Rentfrow’s(2001) research with the Brief
Loquaciousness and Interpersonal Rapidity Test (BLIRT).
High scorers (disinhibitors) tend to express themselves as
soon as thoughts occur to them, endorsing items such as “If
I have something to say, I don’t hesitate to say it,” and “I
speak my mind as soon as a thought enters my head.” In
contrast, low scorers (inhibitors) are relatively slow to
respond to others, endorsing items such as “It often takes
Sex Roles (2007) 57:477–482
J. G. Sellers (*)
Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences,
Green Mountain College,
1 College Circle,
Poultney, VT 05764, USA
M. D. Woolsey
W. B. Swann Jr.
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin,
Austin, TX 78712, USA
W. B. Swann Jr.