Reopening Our Critical Period as Adults
Ever wonder why children can learn certain things, such as languages, faster than adults? There is a time in every human’s life called the critical period, and it takes place during the most intense period of development, childhood. During this time a child’s brain has high neuroplasticity, almost like a sponge. Many new pathways are formed as the child experiences new things. It has always been believed that when our critical period ends it never comes back but recent study has been done with the drug Valproate that increased neural plasticity in adults and may have reopened this critical period.
Valproate is a drug most commonly used for bipolar disorder and epilepsy. It is also known to inhibit an enzyme called histone- deacetylase, or HDAC. HDAC is an enzyme in the brain that slows down neural plasticity. Inhibition of this enzyme by Valproate allows the reopening of pathways in the brain, increasing neuroplasticity, thus reopening the critical period.
This study tested twenty four subjects to see if it was possible to learn how to recognize absolute pitch. It is very difficult to improve on this task, let alone learn it in the first place. There have not been any known cases of adults who have learned absolute pitch without prior musical experience. The scientists who conducted this study hypothesized that even a small increase in pitch recognition with subjects using Valproate suggests an increase in neuroplasticity.
Their results were as expected. The subjects taking Valproate were able to identify pitch significantly better than those taking a placebo. This is a huge breakthrough in science; we now know it is possible to have more than one critical period in our lifetime, or at least that it is possible to reopen a critical period. Perhaps, in the near future, we will be able to do this for everyone! This is an excuse to be a kid again! Go and learn the language you have always wanted to learn, pick up a musical instrument and learn to read sheet music, study rocket science! The possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.
Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch – NCBI
Why the Brain Gets Slower as We Get Older – ZME Science