Why women tend to talk more than men

Scientists have isolated a protein that might help explain why some people are chatterboxes

Chatty women
(Image credit: Thinkstock)

The question: Studies have long suggested that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7,000. That means in one year, a Chatty Cathy could wind up speaking 4.7 million more words than a member of the quieter sex, or the rough equivalent of narrating War and Peace in its entirety... eight times. The reason for this has long been unclear to scientists, and it's why a team of researchers at the University of Maryland sought to find a biological underpinning for why women tend to have a natural gift for gab. Their question: What makes women more talkative than men?

How it was tested: A team of neuroscientists and psychologists, led by Margaret McCarthy, studied rats to identify a protein called Foxp2, which was found to be associated with vocalization. Male rats, for example, tended to have more of this protein in their brains than females, and when scientists reduced the protein's rate of production, the baby males were far less squeaky (and were given less attention from their mothers). The next step was to see if the same was true for humans. Researchers tested 10 children between the ages of three and five to see what their Foxp2 protein levels were.

The result: Compared to young boys, the girls had 30 percent more of the Foxp2 protein in a "brain area key to language in humans," says The Telegraph. A correlation seems clear. Among rats, males are more talkative and have more of this protein. Among humans, girls are more talkative and have more of this protein in key language areas of the brain.

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What the experts say: "Based on our observations, we postulate higher levels of Foxp2 in girls and higher levels of Foxp2 in male rats is an indication that Foxp2 protein levels are associated with the more communicative sex," said McCarthy. Of course, that doesn't mean women are always more talkative than men. "We can't say that this is the end-all-be-all reasoning," researcher Mike Bowers told Today, "but it is one of the first avenues with which we can start to explore why women tend to be more verbal than men."

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Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Previously, he was a tech reporter at TIME. His work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Esquire, and The Atlantic, among other places. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.