This week Hearing International  investigates the pop culture of Binaural Beats.  An Internet search will find a whole culture and industry based on binaural beats which are said to have therapeutical value, with all sorts of effects on the brain. 

Since the phenomenon occurs only in binaural listening situations, headphones are necessary to get the effect and putative benefit. According to various websites, listening to binaural beats can influence just about anything from mood alterations, to dieting, to smoking cessation, pick you up, calm you down, get you off to sleep, enhance the memory.  Supposedly, they can act as an aphrodisiac, cure headaches, balance the aura, and just about anything else that you can think of.  

In short, binaural beats are a big Internet business.  At Hearing International we did a discussion of Binaural Beats on February 25, 2015.  Since then, it’s become an even bigger business on the Internet, prompting today’s review of what, if anything, has changed in the interim.

 

 What Are These Binaural Beats? ……. How Do They Sound? 

 

When two different frequencies are presented separately, one to each ear, the brain detects the phase variation between the frequencies and tries to reconcile that difference.  In doing so, as the two frequencies mesh in and out of phase, the brain creates its own third signal — called a binaural beat — which is equal to the difference between those two frequencies. 

For example, if a frequency of 100 Hz is presented to the left ear, and a frequency of 105 Hz is presented to the right ear, the brain “hears” a third frequency pulsing at 5 Hz, the exact difference between the two frequencies. Believers feel that introducing a binaural beat will cause the brain to begin resonating in tune with that beat. By creating a binaural beat at 10 Hz — an Alpha brain frequency — they feel that it triggers the brain to resonate at that same 10 Hz frequency, automatically inducing brain activity in the Alpha range. Thus, the technique can be used to quickly and easily guide your mind into any state. 

What does it sound like? Click on the Brain Picture, but remember this is only an example; to get the full effect you need headphones, and you may get tired of it after a minute. This is only the beginning as there are different frequencies of  binaural beats, each thought to have a different purpose. 

For example,  according to Binaural Beats Brainwave Entertainment, 2.5 Hz Delta waves are for pain relief, relaxation, reduce anxiety, the production of endogenous opiates(endorphins).  Additionally, listening to this selection offers a sedative effect – reportedly used on bleeding, bruises, insomnia, and sinusitis and …..yes….even sexual arousal.

 

Where Did It Come From?

 

The concept begins with some basic science generated by Doctor Professor Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.  One of the major European scientists of his generation, Dove was a German physicist with over 300 publications to his credit and a member of various royal scientific societies when he discovered binaural beats in 1839.  We suspect that Dove never had any idea that his discovery would lead to a whole industry that revolves around brain activity to sound.

Binaural beats had really been around throughout history as ancient cultures have felt the power and presumed benefits of beats centuries before Dr. Prof. Dove found them.  In virtually all cultures throughout history, binaural beats have been involved in healing and spiritual development.

The ancients did not call them binaural beats nor did they know what they were at all; they just believed that consistent rhythmic sound had powerful healing and spiritual effects.  Binaural Beats (2017) indicates that “with the repetitive beats and chanting, Tibetan monks, Native American shamans, Hindu Healers, and Mastered Yogis have been able to induce ranges of brainwave states for transcending consciousness, health and spiritual growth.”  

It took technology to harness the presumed benefits of  binaural beats. They stayed mysterious until 1973 when Gerald Oster put together all of the fragmented binaural beat research into a volume titled “Auditory Beats in the Brain”.  Oster’s research presented new laboratory findings on binaural beats.  Oster found that these beats could be used for cognitive and neurological research and to diagnose various medical problems, not just for auditory issues.

While there is a lot of noise being made on the Internet about binaural beat therapy and how different frequencies of therapy will work on various brain frequencies.   There seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that binaural beats are a is good technique for reducing the effects of various disorders. Chaieb and colleagues (2015) have investigated the binaural beat phenomena and found that there is scant research into their benefit. In their opinion, the underlying neural mechanisms are still yet to be unraveled. Understanding how and where the binaural beat perception is generated and which cortical networks are most affected will aid in the optimization of both monaural and binaural beat stimulation as a tool to modulate cognitive and mode states.  Thus, further research, including more accurate reporting of experimental protocols, especially those studies undertaken in a clinical setting, will help to clarify the most promising effects.  

So, the jury is still out on these binaural beats and their therapeutic value. As Dunning (2017) states, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there’s no reason to think they’re any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that affects you in a way you like. He feels that if they make you sleepy, use them to go to sleep, if they relax you or get you hyped, use them for that but don’t expect binaural beats, at least at this  point, to be any more effective for therapy and cure-alls than regular music CDs.

 

References:

Binaural Beats (2017).  History of Binaural Beats.  Binauralbeats.com. Retrieved March 13, 2017.

 Chaieb, L. Wilpert, E. Reber, T., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood states.  Frontiers in Psychiatry. Volume 6, pp 70.  Retrieved March 13, 2017.

Dunning, B., (2017).  Binaural Beats:  Digital Drugs. Skeptoid.  Retrieved March 13, 2017.

Immrama Institute (2017).  Binaural beats and how they affect your brain.  Retrieved March 13, 2017.

Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain. October 1973.  Scientific American.  Retrieved March 13, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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