Only 0.01 percent of the population is believed to have perfect pitch, or the ability to immediately identify individual notes and then repeat them. It's an ability that prior research has indicated can only be acquired early in life, when the brain is developing and still has plasticity. But researchers at Harvard University have made a remarkable discovery: a simple pill that has the ability to reset the brain and allow anyone who takes it to achieve perfect pitch as an adult, reports MedicalXpress.
The drug in question is none other than Valproate, a HDAC inhibitor already commonly prescribed as a mood stabilizer. Researchers studying the drug's effects on adult mice found that it caused them to be able to learn things that mice can normally only learn during the first few weeks of life. This discovery prompted researchers to study whether the drug would have similar effects on human subjects.
For the study, 24 young male volunteers with little or no musical background (none of them had perfect pitch) were asked to take Valproate for 15 days while watching videos that are believed to promote the learning of perfect pitch. All of the volunteers that were given the drug (i.e., excluding those that were given a placebo) were found to have improved their performance on tests that determine perfect pitch. Though none of the volunteers actually achieved perfect pitch, the study shows that the drug certainly has the potential to promote the ability.
It's an extraordinary finding that could have ramifications beyond musical ability. Since the drug appears to offer a reset switch of sorts, reverting the brain to that of a child, it could potentially help people acquire a medley of traits as adults which they missed their window to attain as children. For instance, young children are also able to acquire languages much easier than adults can.
Even if the drug only works at promoting perfect pitch specifically, it's still a groundbreaking discovery. Scientists have been working for centuries to find a 'natural' way to teach adults the ability, to no avail. Those gifted with perfect pitch are often believed to possess a grab bag of innate musical talents, such as the ability to play an instrument simply by listening to songs played on it by other people, or the ability to sing the note C, for example, without hearing it first.
In other words, Valproate could potentially be used as a magical pill that turns those who take it into musical geniuses.
Unfortunately, Valproate also carries with it an assortment of undesirable side effects, so aspiring Mozarts are not advised to self-medicate. But researchers hope that further study will eventually lead to safer and more effective treatments, potentially culminating in the development of a specialized pill for perfect pitch.
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