WOMEN

Biological Evidence May Support Idea That Women Talk More Than Men, Study Says

02/21/2013 06:30 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2013

Do you think your female friends tend to talk more than your male ones?

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, there may be biological evidence to support the idea that women are more talkative than men.

Citing an earlier assertion made by psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, NBC's "Today" reports that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day, while the average man utters about 7,000. In addition, a number of earlier studies have shown that "girls start off with better [language] skills than boys," according to Science magazine.

The new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that higher levels of FOXP2, a so-called "language protein," are found in the brains of women -- a difference that may account for disparities in verbosity.

“This study is one of the first to report a sex difference in the expression of a language-associated protein in humans or animals,” researcher Margaret McCarthy said, according to a news release. “The findings raise the possibility that sex differences in brain and behavior are more pervasive and established earlier than previously appreciated.”

According to Science magazine, scientists first found evidence of the link between FOXP2 and speech production in 2001. The gene has also been connected to the vocalizations of other animals, including birds, bats and mice.

For the latest study, researchers first analyzed FOXP2 levels in young rats, before turning their attention to a group of 4-year-old and 5-year-old children. They discovered that the "chattier" rats (the male pups) had more FOXP2 protein in their brains than the reticent ones. In the human subjects, 30 percent more of the protein was discovered in the brains of the girls.

“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,” said Cheryl Sisk, who studies sex differences at Michigan State University, according to a news release. (Sisk was not involved in the study.)

Though the researchers warn that the new findings must be taken with a grain of salt, they say they are hopeful that their discovery will open doors for future research.

"We can’t say that this is the end-all-be-all reasoning, but it is one of the first avenues with which we can start to explore why women tend to be more verbal than men,” lead researcher Mike Bowers told "Today."

The new study is likely to provoke discussions -- and we can expect that not all of it will be positive. For one thing, some will likely question the veracity of the idea that women are more loquacious than men.

In an earlier blog post, Susan Macaulay, founder of the website Amazing Women Rock, said that the scientific evidence usually cited to support the notion that women talk more men may not be airtight. Specifically, she pointed to the "factoid" about women using 13,000 more words per day than men. Citing a 2006 blog post by linguistics professor Mark Liberman, Macaulay argued that the sources behind such facts may be dubious.

She went on to point out that researchers -- in a 2007 study published in Science magazine -- had found no "reliable sex difference in daily word use" after analyzing data from almost 400 male and female participants.

"Women don't talk any more than men do -- it's an urban legend," Macaulay writes.

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