Considering the Polar Vortex likely has you in its frigid grip and city governments have ordered you to stay indoors, the only way to stave off cabin fever is to knock back a few hot toddies and fire up the old karaoke machine. Lest you start the neighborhood dogs howling at your off-key singing, thankfully there’s now a pill you could swallow to perfect your pitch.
A new study by Harvard researchers showed that people who took the drug Valproate increased their ability to identify the pitch of sounds after two weeks, compared to those who ingested a placebo.
Also known as valproic acid, the drug is normally used as a mood stabilizer that ”restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state,” Harvard professor of molecular and cellular biology and study co-author Takao Hensch told NPR. Perfect pitch — the ability to identify musical notes by hearing tones — is a gift only 1 in 10,000 people have. Typically, people with perfect pitch learn the skill between four and six years of age. Since there’s no record of adults learning the ability, Valproate’s power of ‘juvenile restoration’ is key.
If suddenly being able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald after swallowing a pill doesn’t blow your hair back, how does becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese sound? Hensch says the drug’s abilities could also be used to help people acquire a second language, another ability that becomes more difficult as our brain ages.
“I think we are getting closer to this day, because we are able to understand at greater cellular detail how the brain changes throughout development,” Hensch said. “But I should caution that critical periods have evolved for a reason, and it is a process that one probably would not want to tamper with carelessly.”
He added: “If we’ve shaped our identities through development, through a critical period, and have matched our brain to the environment in which we were raised — acquiring language, culture, identity — then if we were to erase that by reopening the critical period, we run quite a risk as well.”
On second thought, just keep belting out that drunken, tone-deaf version of “Living On A Prayer.” Just don’t expect to see me raising my glass and belting out the chorus. You may have poor taste in karaoke songs, but the last thing I want is for you to swallow some pill that would reopen a critical period of brain development and shatter your identity.