Mainstream media outlets such as the Today Show, Marie Claire, and Huffington Post have been reporting on a new scientific study that claims “women talk more than men.” These media outlets report there’s new “biological evidence to support the idea that women are more talkative than men.”
Not quite! The results from the actual scientific study published in The Journal of Neuroscience have found the brain protein responsible for the difference between girls’ and boys’ language acquisition. The study is entitled, “Foxp2 Mediates Sex Difference in Ultrasonic Vocalization by Rat Pups and Directs Order of Maternal Retrieval.”
Admittedly, it doesn’t quite have the ring of “Women Talk More Than Men.” Additionally, the aforementioned media outlets have also been referencing (with no scientific citation) the statistic that on average women speak 20,000 words per day compared to the mere 7,000 words spoken my men. A study from 2007 published in the journal Science contradicts these findings. The researchers found that men and women actually speak about the same number of words per day.
But that didn’t stop Today from running an image of an irritated man being screamed at by an angry woman shouting into his ear through a megaphone to go along with their story.
The researchers do not mention anything about women talking more than men throughout the paper, but rather why girls tend to start speaking earlier and with greater complexity than boys of the same age. The researchers started to analyze the levels of Foxp2 protein in the brains of male and female rats. The protein levels were higher in males than females in brain areas associated with cognition, emotion, and vocalization and male rats made more noises. The researchers extended their findings to analyzing human brain tissue from girls and boys in a preliminary study of Foxpt2 protein. They found boys had lower levels of the Foxpt2 protein than girls in the brain region associated with language.
Therefore, the broader conclusion that can be drawn from this study is not that women talk more than men, but rather a possible origin as to why there are language differences between the sexes. The findings help to explain why girls may exhibit consistent advantages in early language acquisition and development compared to boys.
And the conclusion to be drawn from the media coverage is that our science news has a long way to go.
Mandi N. Barringer is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Central Florida. Her primary areas of research include social inequalities, sexuality, and gender. Mandi is also the Research Coordinator for NeuroNet Learning, where this post originally appeared.