Finally, there’s a scientific explanation for why men often aren’t as talkative as their significant others. If you’re having trouble connecting with your wife, girlfriend, or really any woman in your life because she says you aren’t willing to talk, biology might be to blame.
A few earlier studies showed that women speak about 20,000 words per day, compared to men who speak about 7,000. Dr. Louann Brizendine, a female psychiatrist, wrote a book several years ago called The Female Mind that explained women devote more brain cells to communication, and that the mere act of talking can produce a high similar to the rush that addicts experience when they get a hit.
“Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road,” Brizendine said. Since the time a few of those studies were conducted, other surveys have showed that men and women do speak about the same amount — roughly 16,000 words per day. However, there are certain differences that are still obvious.
Why men get tongue-tied
For example, girls tend to speak earlier and in more complex sentences than boys in childhood. One thing that Brizendine did have correct from the beginning, however, is that the differences that are present are likely because of hormone differences in the brain. Specifically, the presence of more testosterone in the male body and brain dampens the need to become a chatty Cathy — hence the reason the term is coined after a woman in the first place.
The problem, up until recently, is that researchers couldn’t ethically administer increased levels of testosterone to humans to study how the chemical change affected speech. But that changed with a new study conducted by researchers from Vienna and Amsterdam, who studied the brains of 18 female-to-male transgender people. The subjects by choice took significant doses of testosterone to help them make the desired biological changes, and underwent MRI brain scans before and after several weeks of increased testosterone doses so the researchers could compare the differences.
According to the results, the transgender men who took the added testosterone showed a decrease in brain matter in two key brain segments, the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. Both of those areas in the brain are associated with language processing.
“What we see is a real quantitative difference in brain structure after prolonged exposure to testosterone…In more general terms, these findings may suggest that the genuine difference between the brains of women and men is substantially attributable to the effects of circulating sex hormones,” said professor Rupert Lanzenberger of Vienna.
In other words, it’s really not your fault that you don’t vocalize your thoughts as often, and that you don’t enjoy reading a novel on the beach. Though men can — and do — enjoy doing those things, women will naturally have a greater propensity for them. It’s also a possible explanation for why women talk faster than men.
The structural changes that happened in the adult participants, who had an average age of 27, showed researchers that language processing skills continue to be related to hormone levels through adulthood, not just as children.
Language skills will vary
As The Atlantic points out, men and women still have levels of testosterone that vary widely from person to person. So while there is a noticeable difference in brain images for participants who received numerous doses of testosterone, there’s not an exact known point where testosterone levels begin to make a significant difference. On top of that, the study only included 18 participants. The researchers presented their findings in good faith, and the study does back up the hypotheses of many that came before it. However, none of this is exact.
And before your significant other begins to give you a hard time about less verbal brain function, take note of another interesting finding from the study. Though the gray matter for language processing decreased with more testosterone, the white matter increased. That white matter helps the flow of information pass from neuron to neuron, The Washington Post explains, and appears relevant to cognitive function. In other words, you might have said your first word later than your wife did as kids, and she might be better than you at the crossword puzzle. But as far as passing information through your brain goes, you might have the upper hand.
Keep in mind also that not all speech is created the same. It’s a long-held belief by many researchers that women will tend to talk more in situations where they’re sustaining relationships, either with their families, friends, or other circles they wish to maintain. Men, on the other hand, tend to talk more in situations where power and influence are at stake.
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