The Limits of Neuroplasticity

I am daily annoyed by overhyped headlines reporting medical and other science news. I think news outlets and the public would be better served if they fired all their headline writers and let the authors and editors craft headlines that actually reflect the story. Of course, often the story is overhyped as well, so this would not be a panacea to annoying science reporting.

Take this headline from The Week (please): “This pill could give your brain the learning powers of a 7-year-old“. The article discusses a recent study (full article here) looking at the effects of a drug, valproic acid, on the ability of young adult male subjects to learn pitch. It might be a good exercise for regular SBM readers to take a look at the full article now and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the study.

The study found that those subjects taking valproic acid, which is a drug used to treat seizures, migraines, and mood disorders, did slightly better overall in learning to identify the pitch of various tones. The main limitation of the study is that it is very small – 24 participants enrolled, 18 completed. Further, they did not establish a good baseline performance, as the subjects were practicing as they went along.

There are other limitations but these are enough to classify this study as preliminary. It’s an exploratory study that should only be used to decide upon later studies. In my opinion, it should not be reported to the public at all – or if it is, it should be made abundantly clear that these results are so preliminary we cannot conclude anything from them.

If the effect is real, however, what could it mean? It does not mean valproic acid gives you the learning ability of a 7 year old. Perfect pitch is being used as a research paradigm to look at learning windows – periods of time where people have a much greater ability to learn some skill or ability (language, or perfect pitch, for example), and also where later that window closes and learning that skill becomes much more difficult. Researchers are trying to figure out the neurological mechanism of such windows.

If valproic acid has some effect on such learning, it might provide a clue as to the underlying mechanism. The authors of this study conclude:

In sum, our study is the first to show a change in AP with any kind of drug treatment. The finding that VPA can restore plasticity in a fundamental perceptual system in adulthood provides compelling evidence that one of the modes of action for VPA in psychiatric treatment may be to facilitate reorganization and rewiring of otherwise firmly established pathways in the brain and its epigenome

I think they are overstating their conclusions. I would have thrown in at least a “possibly” in there, given the extremely preliminary nature of their results. But again, assuming the results hold up, it is reasonable to speculate about mechanisms.

I would also note that valproic acid is a serious drug with serious side effect, including sedation, weight gain, and foggy mentation. As an anti-seizure drug it also carries the possibility of withdrawal seizures if stopped suddenly. I doubt it would have a net cognitive benefit if taken regularly, which is another reason why I am suspicious of the findings of this study.

This is exactly why I am concerned about the hyped reporting of such preliminary studies to the general public. If this were a supplement rather than a prescribed drug, you bet you would be hearing about it on Dr. Oz, and products would be popping up on health food store shelves.

Posted in: Neuroscience/Mental Health

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43 thoughts on “The Limits of Neuroplasticity

  1. That last sentence is a winner.

    Don’t forget the words ‘miraculous’, ‘secret’, and ‘they didn’t want you to know about’ would be thrown in for good measure :S

  2. Chris Hickie says:

    This sounds like an imperfect pitch at best. At the risk of sounding glib this is going to have pushy parents who want their child to be the next american idol ringing up their pediatrician for an rx.

    Sometimes after people have strokes or head traumas they subsequently develop a seizure disorder. Has anyone looks at whether such patients on VPA have done better re-acquiring skills/memory lost to the stroke or TBI than those who weren’t on VPA with similar injuries?

    1. Sawyer says:

      I don’t believe in hell, but if it exists, headline writers are residing somewhere between the 8th and 9th circles.

      It says right in the abstract that changes in pitch recognition were NOT due to an overall change in cognitive function. Not the methods sections, not the results, but THE ABSTRACT. How is it even possible for a literate adult to miss that fact?

      I get The Week second-hand from a family member. It’s sort of an “aggregator” magazine that summarizes the work of many different newspapers and websites. One would think that the primary goal of such a magazine would be to weed out noise, but I guess not.

  3. tmac57 says:

    “…foggy mentation”. My phrase for the day! So evocative.
    Now if I can just remember it.

  4. Angora Rabbit says:

    But wait! There’s more! VPA just also happens to be one of the most potent teratogens out there, as potent as thalidomide or retinoic acid. There’s a very good reason this study could only be approved in males – ethics. I heard about it on NPR and was horrified. Thank goodness VPA is a tightly controlled medication; the idea of people trying to obtain it willy-nilly is terrifying.

    I did actually look the study over, as I have an active interest in compounds that might counter neurodevelopmental disorders. But this is one that, even if the data were good, has significant ethical concerns. (And assuming that less potent analogs have fewer side effects, which makes me question why the authors chose VPA over other drugs?)

  5. Lauren Hale says:

    Can you do a page about TVAM, the ne w kid on the block that is better than ccsvi.

    Im a lyme pt and I see that marketed everywhwre. Id like to see hansa clinic and sponaugle clinic investigated. From feklow sudferes Sponaugle gets angry when u dont get well. Wth

    Oardpn my writing but im have neuro issues.

    1. Chris says:

      I hope you get better.

      Your writing reminds me of my son’s speech when he had a complex migraine. It was very very scary. He was taken to the hospital because we thought he was having a stoke. At least at the hospital no one said “only a migraine”, they took it seriously. And he did get some more speech therapy (he had a speech disorder before the migraine).

      Good luck.

  6. I recall this article. I stopped reading after the author stated, back to back, that valproic acid gave participants “perfect pitch” because one group performed “statistically significantly better” than a control group. That made for a good laugh.

    What surprised me was how he quoted the author of the study (some molecular biologist) as being very excited about this finding. Who to blame, the incompetent reporter or the grandstanding yet mediocre scientist?

  7. windriven says:

    News, and not just science news, is increasingly becoming more pen and ink caricature than reportage. Shading and nuance give way to sensationalism and a sharp bifurcation of all issues; a line drawn so that ‘sides’ can form. Statins are either a force field of protection against all arterial nastiness or they are an insidious poison foisted on a credulous pubic to enrich Big Pharma. Global warming is a liberal conspiracy to keep Americans from driving their Hummers or it is the end of life on earth unless we eschew industry and return to our roots as hunter-gatherers.

    The issues that matter in science, in economics, in politics tend to be difficult and intricate and subtle. Exploring and elucidating those issues takes time and intelligence from both the reporter and the reader*. It is ever so much easier to simply sign on to an ideology and let its dogmas do the thinking. In pandering to this odiosity we consign ourselves to an ever lower bar, ever coarser discourse, ever more naked stridency.

    That is, in part, why SBM matters and why SFSBM will come to matter.

  8. Kov says:

    “This study is, therefore, intended as a proof-of-concept demonstration that critical-period-like AP learning may be at least partly restored by using a drug to remove the epigenetic brakes on neural plasticity.”

    I thought the above statement summed things up nicely. Too bad it was buried partway through.

    And is it just me, or was that study wildly (unnecessarily?) complex? I have no experience in the statistological black arts, but my gut assumption would be that the more variables and additional tests and so forth that you introduce into a given study, the more potentially confounding factors you introduce.

    I’d be curious if any of the more statistically/research-methodologically inclined readers or editors had any insight on that.

  9. Andrey Pavlov says:

    If this were a supplement rather than a prescribed drug, you bet you would be hearing about it on Dr. Oz, and products would be popping up on health food store shelves.

    With how many “miracles” Dr. Oz hawks on his show, he may need to begin tapping into these. It obviously won’t be on shelves, but there is already a paradigm in the US (and no other developed nation) for promoting prescription only medications to try and pressure your physician into prescribing them.

  10. MTDoc says:

    So you can achieve “perfect pitch” and “foggy mentation” all at the same time. Didn’t we once see this in rare individuals we called “idiot savants”? BTW saw in the local paper today that the FTC is finally cracking down on some of the weight loss scams. My only real question is where is the FDA on this, and why did it take this long. Actually, I know the answer to this, thanks to previous posts on this blog.

  11. Alia says:

    Oh dear, VPA as a wonder drug. A person in my close family has been on VPA for years due to seizures (caused by a head trauma, but that’s another topic). And it’s a wonder drug all right, since it finally stopped seizures. But its side effects are a burden. First and foremost it’s what he describes as “slowing down”. Slower movements, slower thinking – not exactly what you recommend to someone who wants to learn quicker. And also forgetfulness.

  12. AlisonM says:

    I was fairly stunned by the article when I read it this morning. At one point, IIRC, it said that “side effects are minimal.” This kind of blew my mind, because my doctor wants to re-evaluate my antidepressant medication to treat possible bipolar, and this looked scarybad to me. I’m not even alarmist about psychiatric medications, having tried my fair share. It shocked me even more than the approval of Paxil for treating menopause!

  13. Xplodyncow says:

    Since VPA has been in use for so long, wouldn’t a benefit like “increases neuroplasticity” have been noticed by now? I would think that, over time, several patients would have reported “I can learn stuff faster!” (or whatever) to their physicians, who would, in turn, discuss this with other physicians … sooner or later word would get around, no?

  14. Carl says:

    “learning windows – periods of time where people have a much greater ability to learn some skill or ability (language, or perfect pitch, for example), and also where later that window closes and learning that skill becomes much more difficult”

    Learning a language becomes much more difficult when you no longer are spending every waking hour absorbing it and practicing it, like babies do. I’ve not seen any study to convince me that the young learn languages faster due to any physiological change, especially one related to a particular age. The proper name for this is the “critical period hypothesis”, and there’s barely any support for it.

    If you compare the rate at which babies learn words to the rate at which, say, the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute does, you’ll see that babies actually learn far fewer words per hour than adults do.

    The fact that speakers of tonal languages are associated with a much higher rate of absolute pitch suggests that it’s a learned skill related to language, and I think it’s unlikely that absolute pitch would have a “critical period” any more than spoken language.

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:


      This is far outside my expertise but what you say makes perfect sense to me.

      However, I still have one sticking point that I would appreciate if you were able to clear up (and I really mean that in a genuine way – I am not baiting you for anything here).

      I appreciate that “critical learning window” theory is not well supported and I absolutely agree that an adult can pick up a language more quickly than an infant (anecdote alert: I used to speak 4 languages, English being my 3rd, my Russian now being relegated to understanding somewhat, my Bulgarian doing OK, and my French getting rusty but still conversational. I spent about 3 weeks in Germany a while back and was able to become rudimentarily conversational but, and here is where I was surprised, my ability to understand Bavarian became very good. I was at my friend’s wedding and he had some North German friends who spoke English seated next to me. I asked them if I was understanding the Bavarian band’s lyrics properly and they exclaimed that I understood it better than they did because they did not speak Bavarian!)

      However, to my knowledge and experience certain phonemes will not be able to be learned perfectly later in life. Meaning that while yes, you can become perfectly fluent in a language, you will always end up having a slight accent no matter how hard you try (obviously some languages are more notorious for this and much less so in other languages of the same family – since I grew up speaking Romantic, Germanic, and Slavic languages my ability to understand any of the language families is very high. I can barely speak Spanish, for example, but I can understand 80-90% of it when two people speak unless they are speaking extremely quickly or slip into jargon). My understanding is that this stems both from an inability to distinguish the sounds being spoken and to then generate them.

      By example, my mother cannot hear the difference between a long and short “e”. So “sheep” and “ship” sound the same to her. She knows there is a difference but she simply cannot hear it unless it is extremely drawn out as in “sheeeeeeeeeeeeeep.” My Iranian friend cannot say “th” as in “thanks” or “the.” We played around and figured out that in Farsi there is no sound made that requires you to place your tongue past the front of your teeth, which that sound requires. If he pays attention he can do it, but it never sounds quite right. I suppose in that case since it is muscle memory long and diligent practice could fix that, but how could one “fix” my mother’s inability to hear the difference between long and short “e” sounds (which, as you may have guessed, do not exist in Bulgarian)? And it is not for a lack of trying.

      Of course none of this has any bearing on valproate, but I was just curious as to what you know about these phenomena that I have observed.

      1. Harriet Hall says:

        What fascinates me is how the brain organizes the knowledge of new languages. A child who learns a second language and is required to only speak the new language will sometimes lose the ability to speak the first language; but after a stroke where the second language is lost to aphasia, the first language is somehow “resurrected” and the person is again able to use it to communicate, although they can no longer communicate in the second language.

        I am fluent in Spanish (have a BA in it and lived in Spain for 7 years, used to dream in Spanish when I lived there), learned French on my own and can read it quite well and can speak it (not very correctly) for tourist purposes, and I understand a lot of Italian. I started learning Spanish at age 11 and although I don’t have a “native” accent, neither do I have an “American” accent. I have been able to briefly fool Spaniards into thinking I was from South America and South Americans into thinking I was from Spain. One of my daughters picked up correct Spanish pronunciation from me as a young child and now her adult pronunciation is “too” good – people who hear her say something in Spanish assume she speaks it fluently, but she only has a rudimentary knowledge from a few classes in school.

        Another observation that I have confirmed with other English/Spanish speakers: if we haven’t spoken Spanish for a long time, our tongue seems clumsy and it requires more effort to pronounce things correctly, as if the muscles required to make the “different” sounds are “out of shape” from lack of exercise. As I thought about this, the words “se me traba la lengua” popped into my mind and I couldn’t think of a good way to say the same thing in English. Google-translate translated it as “I get tongue-tied,” but that doesn’t really express what I can say better in Spanish.

        It intrigues me that sometimes I will see something and the word for it pops up in Spanish before I can think of it in English; and if I have been reading French recently, a French word may pop up even sooner than the Spanish word. How does the brain store the words from different languages and how does the retrieval process work? fMRI studies might be able to shed some light on this phenomenon, but I don’t know if anyone has looked into it.

        And I grew up in Seattle, and my father used to tease me because I thought pen and pin sounded the same. Go figure!

        1. DevoutCatalyst says:

          Harriet, my wife is a native Spanish speaker who can no longer roll her rr’s, having lived here for so long where Spanish is not required of her on a daily basis.

          I note that the English actor Hugh Laurie (Gregory House MD) has a very solid American English accent in character, but says he struggles pronouncing something so seemingly simple as the r in “New York” and he stumbles on our ch when speaking extemporaneously out of character in an interview.

          I envy Andrey his Bulgarian and Russian, ah, the beauty and intrigue of the slavic languages. Can you understand much of spoken Polish ?

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:


            I was born in Bulgaria but moved to the states very young (2 years). Bulgarian was still my first language, followed by Russian (mother Bulgarian, father Russian, Bulgarian spoken at the house since they met in Bulgaria but then my father’s mother came to take care of us kids for a while) until I started 1st grade (never did kindergarten) when I learned more than a smattering of English. By 2nd grade I was enrolled in a school to learn French (an after regular school program) and was there for a few years. 4 years of French in high school and a few longish visits out there in undergrad.

            Now my Russian is basically faded, my Bulgarian and French are rusty but conversational, and my English is OK.

            I can pick out words here and there from Polish but I can’t really follow a conversation. Polish is, I think, a little closer to Russian than Bulgarian and my Russian is very, very rusty these days. I can understand Croatian pretty well, same with Serbian, and Macedonian is basically the same language as Bulgarian.

            Interestingly enough I find that knowing a few languages already makes it much easier to pick up new ones. I have Dutch friends and have spent some time out there (Maastricht, specifically) and was very quickly finding myself picking out words here and there. My friend and host was a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the U of Maastricht and he instantly became fascinated at how I was picking out words by making associations with languages I knew and in context of the body language and tone of the speakers. It was just enough to get a very vague sense of the topic, but not remotely enough to actually understand it.

        2. Alia says:

          So. I’m Polish, English is my second language and German third. I work with English every day and sometimes I start thinking in English. Also there are several English words that I understand very well but if I have to translate them into Polish, I _always_ have to check them in a dictionary (casual, urgent and idly are a few examples, don’t know really why). I also learnt some Russian in primary school – now what remains is that I can read it and understand quite well, although I would be hard-pressed if I had to communicate in it. I also did a year of French in secondary school, but realised it was a mistake, so went back to German.
          And now a fun fact. In none of these languages I have a good accent. My English is, as we call it jokingly Mid-Atlantic (neither British, nor American), German also sounds foreign. But then, I never had “musical hearing”, music lessons at school and trying to learn the piano were a nightmare for me. But I have a very good memory and I love grammar (really, I do), so these two things combined mean that my written English and German is much better than spoken.

          On a side note – Polish is quite similar to Russian but even more to Czech and Slovak – these are all West Slavic languagea. Russian belongs to East Slavic languages while Bulgarian is South Slavic.

          1. DevoutCatalyst says:

            Envy. Wish I could read Gombrowicz, and Szymborska in the original.

            1. Alia says:

              Well, Szymborska has had some very good translations into English, don’t really know about Gombrowicz. But yes, that’s a valid point, especially as I read most of English and American literature in the original (and translate some of it, too).

          2. Andrey Pavlov says:

            On a side note – Polish is quite similar to Russian but even more to Czech and Slovak – these are all West Slavic languagea. Russian belongs to East Slavic languages while Bulgarian is South Slavic.

            Which is why I have much more trouble understanding Polish. My Russian was never particularly good since after learning it at a 4 or 5 year old level I rarely used it after, speaking mostly English, followed by Bulgarian, and then French.

            1. Chris says:

              Well, Russian is Greek to me! Though after learning lots of the Greek alphabet for math, and then matching them to the Cyrillic alphabet I can kind of sound some words out.

              I just finished reading the book Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews (his mother is from Russia). It was fascinating, especially to the variety of nations some of the folks came from, in the court and on the two Russian ships that circumnavigated the globe.

              One of the German officers wrote a very detailed and humorous diary, which was published by one of his German ancestors. That ancestor did literally cut out the bits that were more salacious, but the very very naughty Russian profanity was left in since they were written in Cyrillic. Many which were translated into English by the author.

      2. BillyJoe says:

        I used to speak Dutch fluently but now I struggle, but I have no trouble understanding two people speaking Dutch. A curious thing about this language is that, if you do not grow up speaking it, you can never pronounce the Dutch word for “school”. The closest language to Dutch is German, but even they cannot pronounce this word properly. According to my father, the Dutch underground used it as a password. If you couldn’t pronounce it, you were assumed to be part of the German occupied force trying to infiltrate the underground and you were dealt with accordingly. My wife has tried for 25 years to master this word and, although she gets very close on occasion, she never quite gets there. It frustrates her no end.

        (Strangely the Dutch word for “school” is…um… “school”. But it is pronounced without the “k” sound and that is the problem. Also the “oo” sound is different, but that is usually not a problem)

        1. Kathy says:

          I wonder how that compares with Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch? Does Dutch have the harsh “g” sound, which sounds like someone clearing their throat, or the rasp of sandpaper on a rusty bit of irn? Brits find it almost impossible to say.

          The common language of the area I live and work in is Xhosa, which has 18 different click sounds. I don’t speak the language but I’m starting to pick up the clicks just from hearing them every day. I can imagine they would be tiring to one’s tongue too.

          1. Lost Marble says:

            My last name has the Dutch hard g and for years I couldn’t understand why no one else in Toronto could say it like me. At the same time, my first name has an r and I can’t roll it like my parents.

            1. Chris says:

              My husband’s last name is Dutch, and I doubt we pronounce it properly (lots of vowels).

              Though it seems that since Dutch is not widely spoken in Europe, pronunciations are changing even in that country. Which is not surprising since no one graduates from school without knowing English and possibly one other non-Dutch language.

              Hubby used to visit his grandparents in a town north of Amsterdam often as a youth. We went there about twenty seven years ago and spent time with them. We heard the town name pronounced in a specific way.

              Then about five years ago we visited again with kids. When we were in Amsterdam we mentioned to the waiter we were going there and he pronounced the name of the town completely differently. He also said it was now a bedroom community to Amsterdam.

              Note to Andrey: hubby decided we should visit Maastrict only because it had a “fort” with a name similar to our younger son’s. The fort was a tourist bust, but the city and area is awesome. It is a little bit of the Netherlands surrounded by Belgium and Germany, plus it is beautiful hilly country.

              1. Bryan says:

                I’m Dutch, and to the best of my knowledge the sjibbolet used to unmask German infiltrators in WW2 was ‘Scheveningen’, a Dutch sea side town.

                The pronunciation of the ‘ch’ in Scheveningen and school is the same as in Maastricht. ‘Maastrict’ will immediately expose you as a spy.

                It’s very reassuring that the noble art of mixing throat clearing with polite conversation remains such a valuable tool of counter-espionage ;)

              2. Andrey Pavlov says:


                Yes, I learned that quickly. I began by pronouncing it “Mah-ss-treekt” and learned that it is more like “mah-ss-tri-hhhh-t” with the hhh being a guttural throat sound. I was told I actually got surprisingly good at it, but they could always tell I was not Dutch. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get it “perfect.” I did manage occasionally, but it was always by accident and never reliably reproducible.

                Well, this has made me a bit sad today because it made me remember my friend who was a great man and a great scientist. I spoke to him on the phone not too long before his death and explained to him what I’ve been doing and about SBM and what we do here and why. I’ll never forget what he said:

                “Sounds like you’re becoming a real doctor and a true scientist.” And then he laughed and said it was great hearing from me and asked about my fiance, whom he never got to meet.

                From the man who had exhausted every science based option and instead of chasing down every random implausible CAM, accepted the situation and took his wife and 3 children on a world tour with the last of his time and strength.

                You’re sorely missed Leo.

              3. Chris says:

                “and school is the same as in Maastricht. ‘Maastrict’ ”

                Oops. Sorry. Though that is one city where you can’t go very far without hitting a national border. And while I did not spell it right, I got close to pronouncing okay (especially with linguist child correcting me all the time).

                These days everything has changed. My husband’s cousin lives near the German border. Their town, and the one across the border now have joint events from charity races to fairs several times a year. She picked up German from television, just like her kids.

      3. Chris says:

        My first language was Spanish. I was born in the Panama Canal Zone and cared for by a maid. My parents would even let her take me to her family’s home in the interior for weekends (they were very trusting and a bit nutty*). My dad would come to pick me up and see this little blond toddler in among a bunch of dark kids.

        When my dad was transferred back to the States I was devastated and spoke Spanish as well as any other three year old. My dad told me I did not speak for a few months. I forgot how to speak Spanish.

        Then when I was in fifth and sixth grade we lived in Venezuela, where I learned the language over again. One year was with a teacher from Spanish Morocco who insisted on perfect Castilian Spanish, no Caribbean accent allowed.

        Then I kind of forgot it, and took the prescribed two years of Spanish in high school to get into college. The easy “A” class in amongst physics, chemistry and trigonometry, plus graduating a year early.

        I still remember some of it, and I can still roll my R’s. I’m not great at it, I totally fail at past tenses, but I can mostly understand the Spanish I read.

        Despite my Spanish Moroccan teacher I have a distinct Caribbean accent (well, I did end up living another three years in the Panama Canal Zone, where even though English or Spanglish was spoken in Balboa High School, only dweebs stayed in the Zone, it was only a bus ride into Panama City).

        Someone I met in the college dorms was majoring in Spanish after having four years of high school Spanish. She told me my accent was terrible… until she went to Mexico, and learned she had a terrible accent. (Spanish is full of dialects/accents, Isabel Allende mentioned the Caribbean accent from her exile in Venezuela in her book My Invented Country).

        And to top it all off: even though I lived almost forty years in the state that my grandmother was born in 1901, when I meet someone they ask me where I grew up because I speak English with an accent! My dad grew up in Yakima, WA and both my mother and stepmother grew up in Eau Claire, WI. These are not accent heavy locations. No comprendo.

        I can’t even get a straight answer from my youngest who is a linguistics major. She has no clue, even though she took “Second Language Acquisition.” Though both she and my younger son have been told they have an accent. For that, I blame being married to an ex-Canadian… even though he is from Vancouver Island, and lived in the USA for a good portion of his youth (parents moved all over between Canada and USA because dad worked for a mining company, Kaiser). Go figure.

        1. Chris says:

          (they were very trusting and a bit nutty*)

          I forgot to expand on my parents’ being a bit trusting and nutty.

          Well, as it turns out they really encouraged all of us to go into scouts and camping. You have to understand there is at least a four to six year gap in all of our ages, so we were all pretty much only kids due to the age span.

          So last summer we were all together and learned we all had a similar tale… the non-ending summer camp. We would be signed up for a week of summer scout camp, and then when it was time to be picked up our parents would drive up, spend some time with us and ask if we were having fun. If we said “yes” they would sign us up for another week or more!

          Oh good grief. I only managed to get my kids to go on a sleep over camp once each! They begged to come home. The youngest complained about being cold. My favorite excuse came from from the oldest who I swear said there was “pair sex”, but in reality he meant “parasites” due to his speech disability… I did do a double take combined with a coffee spit take.

        2. Andrey Pavlov says:

          I was told last year that I had a “very clean accent.” I had no idea what that meant and after some discussion back and forth it was determined that the person meant that my speech sounded just a little “different” to him because I tend to speak with a very even cadence and enunciate words clearly and crisply (not overly so… I’m not Michael Buble ;-)). Apparently speaking “properly” can sound odd to people.

          I also have a habit of changing my cadence, tone, and even accent when speaking to non-native English speakers. In Germany, for example, when I visit my friend I adopt exactly his speech mannerisms – including a slight German accent – when speaking to him. I even find myself using the slightly odd ways of stringing together verbs and nouns that he does since he is translating German to English in his head. He and others find this makes me very easy to understand. I was once there with a friend from high school and he asked us how we normally speak so we slipped into “Californian” and spoke as normal. He said it was indeed quite different and could understand us, but not nearly as well.

  15. Jake says:

    It’s probably advertising. Odds on any news story even mentioning a drug is advertising. Unfortunately, you’re only going to get an improvement in the quality of such news “stories” (really, fraud; astroturf and commercial propaganda) when the government starts to actually enforce truth-in-advertising laws with jail time for the repeat offenders. At the moment it’s just a joke.

  16. Publications intended for physicians are much more careful with headlines. Despite that, as a medical reporter, I wish I could write my own headlines. I hate when nuances are skipped.
    But I *really* hate mainstream media. I’m constantly saying, “that’s not what the study showed.”

  17. hematophage says:

    I listened to a chunk of the On Point interview with one author Takao Hensch this morning on NPR. First, he is a neuroscientist, not a molecular biologist as someone stated above, and second, Tom Ashbrook must’ve pushed this whole TAKING A PILL FOR A SKILL bullshit every fourteen seconds, and Hensch was having none of it. He stated repeatedly that the study was preliminary, tiny, and proof of concept. He did not hesitate to point out that while there was significant improvement in pitch recognition, the other two tasks under investigation (distinguishing non-native language sounds and non-human facial discrimination) did not show any difference in improvement between VPA takers and placebo. I did not hear the last author (Allan Young, a psychologist) talk, so I don’t know if there was a difference in opinion.

    Regarding valproac acid, the needed an HDAc inhibitor, and VPA is generic and FDA approved. Probably that simple.

    Where do you get the idea that there’s no support for critical period hypothesis? There is support for critical period hypothesis and decreased plasticity with age.

    The most fascinating part of the study for me was the presentation of the idea that brain plasticity is not so much lost and intentionally turned off during maturation. Such a program would have very likely evolutionary underpinnings, and the implications for lifelong child-like plasticity strike me as potentially fascinating (and potentially severe). …which is why I’m an evolutionary biologist and not a neuroscientist.

  18. Kultakutri says:

    Apparently, someone kicked my language learning window out. I just absorb languages somehow, I can’t really describe it but it’s like concentrating a bit to let them enter my brain. If there’s a god, it’s laughing maniacally because I’m very inhibited in social situations so I can learn passable, say, Catalan from street signs and a pocket conversation book in a week but I must be high on stress hormones to actually speak it.

    I probably have accents in all languages I speak. I heard I speak slightly Californian in English, and that my Swedish is part Stockholm, part Finland, and my Finnish is positively tilted towards the northern persuasion (and I don’t understand the spoken Helsinkian if you killed me), my remnants of German are rather Austrian, my Italian is not Italian but Florentine to the bone. But… I like accents and dialects. People come from somewhere and language should be varied.

  19. RE: Psychiatry aside, Neuroplasticity has had been actively investigated in our Modern Developmental Psychology and Aging!?

    fMRI studies might be able to shed light on this phenomenon, but I don’t know if anyone has looked into it.

    Yes, fMRI has had been used in the studies of our growing brain and aging; and there is a critical developmental peak (in girls around age 10-12; boys around 12-14 years of age) after which times their neuroplasticity will begin to turn south or decline with age!?

    Specifically, the brains of bilingual persons (bilingual since adolescence) will show 2 distinctive hot spots related to their languages acquisition and development in their temporal lobes; whereas the brains of monolingual adults (who even have had learned a second language since adulthood) will not show a second spot for the second language acquired in their temporal regions!?

    Thus, the expression that “learning windows – periods of time where people have a much greater ability to learn some skill or ability (language, or perfect pitch, for example), and also where later that window closes and learning that skill becomes much more difficult” is generally true in our modern developmental psychology (in psycholinguistics) and geriatric studies!?

    Furthermore, the fact that the non English-speaking natives cannot distinguish and/or pronounce the phoneme difference between “sheep” and “ship”; “thanks” and “anks”; “pen” and “pin”; “fried rice” and “fly lice”; etc are ubiquitous cultural phenomena worldwide — this is primarily due to the “motherese” or “mothertongue” experiences that we each have had picked up subconsciously or autonomously since childhood!? — A project for the idiosyncratic cultural neuroplasticity fixation phenomenology, anyone!?

    Best wishes, Mong 1/13/14usct4:49p; practical science-philosophy critic; author “Decoding Scientism” and “Consciousness & the Subconscious” (works in progress since July 2007), Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse; 2006) and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now (blogging avidly since 2006).

  20. mark says:

    I wish i could write headlines like that hahaha the thing is the hype headlines sell products and services. Im sure that if the headlines were more “honest” these advertising companies would go out of Business. You and i and most who visit your site can see through the bs.

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