When a sentence ends in a question mark, the voice in your head goes up at the end with uncertainty? Even if it’s a statement, not a question, people will do this? That’s uptalk. And according to a recent study, women are guiltier of it than men.
Thomas Linneman, a sociologist at William & Mary, studied 100 episodes of Jeopardy!®, focusing several areas, including whether contestants ended their answers with a rising intonation—uptalk—or a flat one, the contestants’ demographics, how far ahead or behind they were in the game, and whether they were supplying the first answer or correcting an opponent.
What he found was that women uptalked more than one and a half times more often than men—and that it happened most when they were answering wrong. In fact, women answering incorrectly used uptalk 76 percent of the time.
What’s stranger is that women in the lead tended to uptalk more. While men who were $10,000 ahead of their nearest competitors uptalked less often, women who were in the lead uptalked more than women who were behind. What Linneman concludes from this is that women don’t just use uptalk to indicate uncertainty, but also to compensate for success.
As for men, they are more assertive in their answers when playing against other men, but uptalk when correcting a female contestant’s answer; Linneman calls this “a weird form of chivalry,” and goes on to explain, “They’re in a public arena, they’re telling a woman [she’s] wrong, and they know they have to be careful about how they do it.”
Linneman’s study does have its limits, as it isn’t based on real conversation—and, as we’re all aware, the nature of the game is to answer in question form. But his research can make us all aware of how our inflections are perceived by others.