You know all the times that men complain about women talking too much? Apparently there’s a biological explanation for the reason why women are chattier than men. Scientists have discovered that women possess higher levels of a “language protein” in their brains, which could explain why females are so talkative.
Previous research has shown that women talk almost three times as much as men. In fact, an average woman notches up 20,000 words in a day, which is about 13,000 more than the average man. In addition, women generally speak more quickly and devote more brainpower to speaking. Yet before now, researchers haven’t been able to biologically explain why this is the case.
Now, they can. New findings conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and published in The Journal of Neuroscience show that a certain protein may be the culprit.
In 2001, a gene called FOXP2 appeared to be essential for the production of speech. In order to test this protein, the team, led by J. Michael Bowers and Margaret McCarthy, looked at young rat pups. These animals emit cries in the ultrasonic range when separated from their mothers. The team recorded the cries over five minutes in groups of 4-day-old male and female rats that had been separated from their mothers. They found that male pups had up to twice as much of the protein FOXP2 in regions of the brain known to be involved in vocalization–perhaps an unsurprising finding since researchers noted that males made twice as many cries as females.
Next, the researchers wanted to test their findings in humans. They conducted a small study on human children aged four to five years who had died in accidents less than 24 hours previously. They then analyzed the amount of FOXP2 protein in the brains of these children. In the end, the researchers found 30 percent more FOXP2 protein in the brains of the girls.
The research shows that the protein, FOXP2, is a key molecule for communication in mammals. In fact, it could allow researchers to better understand other species that may or may not possess the protein, such as Neanderthals. With this new biological link, scientists could potentially trace back the evolutionary origin of speech.
That said, the research also gives a reason for why women tend to be better at small talk.