WE ALL KNOW THAT YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS, but what about an old human a new language?
Previous research suggests that it’s much easier for young children to pick up a new language than it may be for their parents or even older siblings. A new study offers a solution to jump that evolutionary hurdle.
Using small, imperceptible brain stimulation through the ear, scientists saw improvements in the abilities of adults to recognize foreign language tones compared to those without stimulation. This memory effect lasted even during trials where the stimulation was paused.
This science-fiction inspired brain-hack could help adults overcome their brains’ own limitations.
In the study, published Thursday in the journal Science of Learning, the authors explain that part of what has made language acquisition in later life difficult is that the adult brain no longer has the same plasticity — or ability to reshape its synaptic networks to accommodate new information — that it once did in childhood.
“Humans are excellent perceptual learners,” the study team writes. “Yet, a notable and well-documented exception is the acquisition of non-native speech categories in adulthood.”
However, recent research has found that stimulation to the nervous system paired with behavioral stimuli can result in improved plasticity and memory recall. To test this for language learning, the team designed a small, outer-ear device to non-invasively stimulate a participant’s transcutaneous vagus nerve (tVNS) through painless electric pulses.
Read more: Inverse