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Why Do Women Tend to Talk More Than Men?

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By Chris Gayomali

Studies have long suggested that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7000. That means in one year, a Chatty Cathy could wind up speaking 4.7 million more words than a member of the quieter sex, or the rough equivalent of narrating War and Peace in its entirety ... eight times. The reason for this has long been unclear to scientists, and it's why a team of researchers at the University of Maryland sought to find a biological underpinning for why women tend to have a natural gift for gab. Their question: What makes women more talkative than men?

How it was tested

A team of neuroscientists and psychologists, led by Margaret McCarthy, studied rats to identify a protein called Foxp2, which was found to be associated with vocalization. Male rats, for example, tended to have more of this protein in their brains than females, and when scientists reduced the protein's rate of production, the baby males were far less squeaky (and were given less attention from their mothers). The next step was to see if the same was true for humans. Researchers tested 10 children between the ages of three and five to see what their Foxp2 protein levels were.

The result

Compared to young boys, the girls had 30 percent more of the Foxp2 protein in a "brain area key to language in humans," says The Telegraph. A correlation seems clear. Among rats, males are more talkative and have more of this protein. Among humans, girls are more talkative and have more of this protein in key language areas of the brain.

What the experts say

"Based on our observations, we postulate higher levels of Foxp2 in girls and higher levels of Foxp2 in male rats is an indication that Foxp2 protein levels are associated with the more communicative sex," said McCarthy. Of course, that doesn't mean women are always more talkative than men. "We can't say that this is the end-all-be-all reasoning," researcher Mike Bowers told Today, "but it is one of the first avenues with which we can start to explore why women tend to be more verbal than men."

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?
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Of all the planets surrounded by rings, Saturn is the most famous. These planetary rings are massive enough that Galileo was able to see them using a simple telescope way back in 1610, though it wasn't until half a century later that another scientist was able to figure out what the "arms" Galileo saw actually were. NASA has since called them "the most recognized characteristic of any world in our solar system."

So how many rings does Saturn have, anyway? If you can see them from your backyard, there must be a lot, right?

Scientists don't know for sure exactly how many rings Saturn has. There are eight main, named ring groups that stretch across 175,000 miles, but there are far more than eight rings. These systems are named with letters of the alphabet, in order of their discovery. (Astronomers have known about ring groups A, B, and C since the 17th century, while others are newer discoveries. (The most recent was just discovered in 2009.)

The rings we can see in images of the planet—even high-resolution images—aren't single rings, per se, but are in fact comprised of thousands of smaller ringlets and can differ a lot in appearance, showing irregular ripples, kinks, and spokes. The chunky particles of ice that make up Saturn's rings vary in size from as small as a speck of dust to as large as a mountain.

While the gaps between Saturn's rings are small, the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap is large enough to contain multiple moons, albeit very small ones. The largest ring system—the one discovered in 2009—starts 3.7 million miles away from Saturn itself and its material extends another 7.4 million miles out, though it's nearly invisible without the help of an infrared camera.

Researchers are still discovering new rings as well as new insights into the features of Saturn's already-known ring systems. In the early 1980s, NASA's Voyager missions took the first high-resolution images of Saturn and its rings, revealing previously unknown kinks in one of the narrower rings, known as the F ring. In 1997, NASA sent the Cassini orbiter to continue the space agency's study of the ringed planet, leading to the discovery of new rings, so faint that they remained unknown until Cassini's arrival in 2006. Before Cassini is sent to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017, it's taking 22 dives through the space between the planet and its rings, bringing back new, up-close revelations about the ring system before the spacecraft dives to its death.

Though it's certainly possible to see Saturn's rings without any fancy equipment, using a low-end telescope at your house, that doesn't mean you always can. It depends on the way the planet is tilted; if you're looking at the rings edge-on, they may look like a flat line or, depending on the magnification, you might not be able to see them at all. However, 2017 happens to be a good year to see the sixth planet, so you're in luck.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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