It's a scientific fact that women talk more than men, but the reason for their verbal edge has been an age-old mystery. Now there's an answer: Women possess higher levels of a "language protein" in their brains compared with men.
Supporting previous research that found women on average talk nearly three times as much as men, according to Science World Report
, the recent findings on language protein were published Feb. 20 in The Journal of Neuroscience
The study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that Foxp2 protein, which women have more of than men do, likely plays a key role in the communication differences between the sexes.
Analyzing the levels of Foxp2 protein in the brains of 4-day-old female and male rats when removed from their mothers and siblings, researchers compared the ultrasonic distress calls the animals made.
Male rat brains were shown to produce more of the protein during the period of separation compared with their female counterparts, resulting in the male rats making nearly double the noise than female baby rats. When the mother was returned to the nest, she gave her male offspring preferential treatment, retrieving and returning them to the nest before the female babies.
Scientists, noting the larger amount of Foxp2 protein in the male rats brain, then increased the amount of the protein in the female rats and decreased the protein in the males. The result was females making more distress calls when separated from their mother, which upon its return, now showed preferential treatment to the female babies.
"This study is one of the first to report a sex difference in the expression of a language-associated protein in humans or animals," said Dr. Margaret McCarthy who co-produced the study. "The findings raise the possibility that sex differences in brain and behavior are more pervasive and established earlier than previously appreciated."
Researchers then extended their findings to humans through a preliminary study involving a small group of school children.
Although the level of Foxp2 protein was higher in young male rats compared with female rats, the opposite was the case in humans. Girls have more of the "language protein" in their cortex — a brain region associated with language — than boys of the same age.
"At first glance, one might conclude that the findings in rats don’t generalize to humans, but the higher levels of Foxp2 expression are found in the more communicative sex in each species," noted Cheryl Sisk, who studies sex differences at Michigan State University and was not involved with the study.
Additional studies into the speech patterns of both sexes have also concluded that women devote more brainpower to speaking and speak at a faster pace than men, on average uttering approximately 20,000 words on a daily basis.
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