IT HAS long been known that it is a female trait to enjoy a good gossip.
Now scientists think they could have pinpointed the reason behind the female tendency to chit chat – by studying monkeys.
The researchers found that like women, female macaque monkeys were more likely to make friendly noises to each other, such as grunts and coos, than the males of the species.
They think the discovery could add weight to the theory that language evolved from the need to form social bonds, with females needing to build closer relationships than males.
The scientists listened to a group of 16 female and eight male macaques, the most widespread primate genus apart from humans, living on Cayo Santiago island off Puerto Rico for three months.
They counted the grunts, coos and girneys – friendly chit-chat between two individuals – while ignoring calls specifically used when in the presence of food or a predator.
Female macaques were found to make 13 times as many friendly noises as males. They were also more likely to chat to other females than males.
The scientists believe this is because female macaques form solid, long-lasting bonds. They stay in the same group for life, and rely on their female friends to help them look after offspring.
In contrast males – who rove between groups throughout their life – chatted to both sexes equally, according to the findings in Evolution and Human Behavior, published by New Scientist magazine.
Evolutionary anthropologist Dr Nathalie Greeno said: "The results suggest females rely on vocal communication more than males due to their need to maintain the larger social networks."
Dr Greeno and her colleague Dr Stuart Semple, from Roehampton University in London, say this is the first time sex differences in communication in non-human primates have been identified.
They believe their findings support the theory that human language evolved to strengthen ties between individuals.
Professor Klaus Zuberbuhler, a primate expert from the University of St Andrews, agreed that the findings had a bearing on language development.
In all social species, communication helped individuals "navigate their daily social lives, usually by influencing the minds and behaviour of group members", he said. Many researchers think language replaced grooming as a less time-consuming way of preserving close bonds in ever-growing societies.
Julia Armstrong, a relationship therapist, said she is not surprised the tendency to gossip could have evolutionary roots.
"Women want connection," she said. "It has always been that way.
"Right from the beginning we would all connect together, in a sisterhood so to speak. We would all watch each other's backs."
She said research has shown baby girls are more likely to form strong bonds earlier in life, by seeking eye contact earlier than boys.
However, she thinks that men also gossip, but not in the same way. "They gossip as well, but it's the emotional connection that women are craving," she said.
"Men do stuff and gossip while they are playing football or drinking, and women are quite happy to just be together."