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Binaural beats

Binaural beats
For other uses, see Binaural (disambiguation).
Binaural beats
Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts, or
apparent sounds, caused by specific physical stimuli. This effect was
discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove and earned greater
public awareness in the late 20th century based on claims coming from
the alternative medicine community that binaural beats could help
induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable mental
states. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone: for example, if 300Hz
was played in one ear and 310 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10Hz.
The brain produces a phenomenon resulting in low-frequency pulsations in the amplitude and sound localization of a
perceived sound when two tones at slightly different frequencies are presented separately, one to each of a subject's
ears, using stereo headphones. A beating tone will be perceived, as if the two tones mixed naturally, out of the brain.
The frequencies of the tones must be below 1,000 hertz for the beating to be noticeable. The difference between the
two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30Hz) for the effect to occur; otherwise, the two tones will be
heard separately, and no beat will be perceived.
Binaural beats are of interest to neurophysiologists investigating the sense of hearing.
Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain in more subtle ways through the entrainment of brainwaves and provide
other health benefits such as control over pain.
Acoustical background
Interaural time differences (ITD) of binaural
For sound localization, the human auditory system analyses interaural
time differences between both ears inside small frequency ranges,
called critical bands. For frequencies below 1000 to 1500Hz interaural
time differences are evaluated from interaural phase differences
between both ear signals.
The perceived sound is also evaluated from
the analysis of both ear signals.
If different pure tones (sinusoidal signals with different frequencies)
are presented to each ear, there will be time-dependent phase and time
differences between both ears (see figure). The perceived sound
depends on the frequency difference between both ear signals:
If the frequency difference between the ear signals is lower than a few hertz, the auditory system can follow the
changes in the interaural time differences. As a result, an auditory event is perceived, which is moving through
the head. The perceived direction corresponds to the instantaneous interaural time difference.
For slightly bigger frequency differences between the ear signals (more than 10Hz), the auditory system can no
longer follow the changes in the interaural parameters. A diffuse auditory event appears. The sound corresponds
to an overlay of both ear signals, which means amplitude and loudness are changing rapidly (see figure in the
chapter above).
For frequency differences between the ear signals of above 30Hz, the cocktail party effect begins to work, and
the auditory system is able to analyze the presented ear signals in terms of two different sound sources at two
different locations, and two distinct signals are perceived.
Binaural beats can also be experienced without headphones; they appear when playing two different pure tones
through loudspeakers. The sound perceived is quite similar: with auditory events that move through the room, at
Binaural beats
low-frequency differences, and diffuse sound at slightly bigger frequency differences. At bigger frequency
differences, apparent localized sound sources appear.
However, it is more effective to use headphones than
Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered binaural beats in 1839 and published his findings in the scientific journal
Repertorium der Physik.
While research about them continued after that, the subject remained something of a
scientific curiosity until 134 years later, with the publishing of Gerald Oster's article "Auditory Beats in the Brain"
(Scientific American, 1973). Oster's article identified and assembled the scattered islands of relevant research since
Dove, offering fresh insight (and new laboratory findings) to research on binaural beats.
In particular, Oster saw binaural beats as a powerful tool for cognitive and neurological research, addressing
questions such as how animals locate sounds in their three-dimensional environment, and also the remarkable ability
of animals to pick out and focus on specific sounds in a sea of noise (which is known as the cocktail party effect).
Oster also considered binaural beats to be a potentially useful medical diagnostic tool, not merely for finding and
assessing auditory impairments, but also for more general neurological conditions. (Binaural beats involve different
neurological pathways than ordinary auditory processing.) For example, Oster found that a number of his subjects
that could not perceive binaural beats suffered from Parkinson's disease. In one particular case, Oster was able to
follow the subject through a week-long treatment of Parkinson's disease; at the outset, the patient could not perceive
binaural beats, but by the end of the week of treatment, the patient was able to hear them.
In corroborating an earlier study, Oster also reported gender differences in the perception of beats. Specifically,
women seemed to experience two separate peaks in their ability to perceive binaural beatspeaks possibly
correlating with specific points in the menstrual cycle, onset of menstruation and during the luteal phase. These data
led Oster to wonder if binaural beats could be used as a tool for measuring relative levels of estrogen.
The effects of binaural beats on consciousness were first examined by physicist Thomas Warren Campbell and
electrical engineer Dennis Mennerich, who under the direction of Robert Monroe sought to reproduce a subjective
impression of 4Hz oscillation that they associated with out-of-body experience.
On the strength of their findings,
Monroe created the binaural-beat technology self-development industry by forming The Monroe Institute, now a
charitable binaural research and education organization.
Unverified claims
There have been a number of claims regarding binaural beats, among them that they may simulate the effect of
recreational drugs, help people memorize and learn, stop smoking, help dieting, tackle erectile dysfunction and
improve athletic performance.
An uncontrolled pilot study of eight individuals indicated that binaural beats may have a relaxing effect. In absence
of positive evidence for a specific effect, claimed effects may be attributed to the power of suggestion (the placebo
In a blind study (eight participants) of binaural beats' effects on meditation, 7Hz frequencies were found to enhance
meditative focus while 15Hz frequencies harmed it.
A further study conducted at Goldsmiths, University of London found that there was no main effect for the use of
binaural beats in order to alleviate cold pain. Musicians, however, demonstrated themselves to be better at coping
with the pain, suggesting that it may be the sound itself which is a distracting factor as opposed to any brainwave
Binaural beats
The sensation of binaural beats is believed to originate in the superior olivary nucleus, a part of the brain stem. They
appear to be related to the brain's ability to locate the sources of sounds in three dimensions and to track moving
sounds, which also involves inferior colliculus (IC) neurons. Regarding entrainment, the study of rhythmicity
provides insights into the understanding of temporal information processing in the human brain. Auditory rhythms
rapidly entrain motor responses into stable steady synchronization states below and above conscious perception
thresholds. Activated regions include primary sensorimotor and cingulate areas, bilateral opercular premotor areas,
bilateral SII, ventral prefrontal cortex, and, subcortically, anterior insula, putamen, and thalamus. Within the
cerebellum, vermal regions and anterior hemispheres ipsilateral to the movement became significantly activated.
Tracking temporal modulations additionally activated predominantly right prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and
intraparietal regions as well as posterior cerebellar hemispheres. A study of aphasic subjects who had a severe stroke
versus normal subjects showed that the aphasic subject could not hear the binaural beats, whereas the normal
subjects could.
Hypothetical effects on brain function
For more details on this topic, see brainwave entrainment.
Binaural beats may influence functions of the brain in ways besides those related to hearing. This phenomenon is
called "frequency following response". The concept is that if one receives a stimulus with a frequency in the range of
brain waves, the predominant brainwave frequency is said to be likely to move towards the frequency of the stimulus
(a process called entrainment). In addition, binaural beats have been credibly documented to relate to both spatial
perception and stereo auditory recognition, and, according to the frequency following response, activation of various
sites in the brain.
The stimulus does not have to be aural; it can also be visual or a combination of aural and visual (one such example
would be Dreamachine).
Perceived human hearing is limited to the range of frequencies from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, but the frequencies of
human brain waves are below about 40Hz. To account for this lack of perception, binaural beat frequencies are used.
Beat frequencies of 40Hz have been produced in the brain with binaural sound and measured experimentally.
When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to the delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma range of brainwave
frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to or move towards the beat frequency. For example, if a 315Hz sine wave is
played into the right ear and a 325Hz one into the left ear, the brain is entrained towards the beat frequency 10Hz,
in the alpha range. Since alpha range is associated with relaxation, this has a relaxing effect, or if in the theta range,
more alertness. An experiment with binaural sound stimulation using beat frequencies in the beta range on some
participants and the delta/theta range on other participants found better vigilance performance and mood in those on
the awake alert state of beta-range stimulation.
Binaural beat stimulation has been used fairly extensively in attempts to induce a variety of states of consciousness,
and there has been some work done in regards to the effects of these stimuli on relaxation, focus, attention, and states
of consciousness. Studies have shown that with repeated training to distinguish close frequency sounds that a plastic
reorganization of the brain occurs for the trained frequencies and is capable of asymmetric hemispheric balancing.
Binaural beats
Brain waves
Main article: Electroencephalography
Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
1339Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia
713Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, Dreams
812Hz Mu waves Mu rhythm, Sensorimotor rhythm
47Hz Theta waves Deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness
(The precise boundaries between ranges vary among definitions, and there is no universally accepted standard.)
The dominant frequency determines one's current state. For example, if in someone's brain, alpha waves are
dominating, they are in the alpha state (this happens when one is relaxed but awake). However, other frequencies
will also be present, albeit with smaller amplitudes.
The brain entraining is more effective if the entraining frequency is close to the user's starting dominant frequency
Wikipedia:Citation needed. Therefore, it is suggested to start with a frequency near to one's current dominant
frequency (likely to be about 20Hz or less for a waking person) and then slowly decrease or increase it towards the
desired frequency.
Some people find pure sine waves unpleasant, so a pink noise or another background (e.g., natural sounds such as
river noises) can also be mixed with them. In addition to that, as long as the beat is audible, increasing the volume
should not necessarily improve the effectiveness; therefore, using a low volume is usually suggested. One theory is
to reduce the volume so low that the beating should not even be clearly audible, but this does not seem to be the case
(see the next paragraph).
Other uses
In addition to lowering the brain frequency to relax the listener, there are other controversial, alleged effects of
binaural beats. For example, that by using specific frequencies, an individual can stimulate certain glands to produce
desired hormones. Beta-endorphin has been modulated in studies using alpha-theta brain wave training, and
dopamine with binaural beats. Some have attempted to use them to induce lucid dreaming, but the role of
alpha-wave activity in lucid dreaming is subject to ongoing research.
Alpha-theta brainwave training has also been used successfully for the treatment of addictions.
It has been used for the recovery of repressed memories, but as with other techniques, this can lead to false
An uncontrolled pilot study of delta binaural beat technology over 60 days has shown positive effects on
self-reported psychologic measures, especially anxiety. However only 15 people participated in this study, therefore,
providing insignificant results. Of the few people that participated, there was reported a significant decrease in trait
anxiety, an increase in quality of life, and a decrease in insulin-like growth factor-1 and dopamine, and it has been
shown to decrease mild anxiety. Further research is warranted to explore the effects on anxiety using a larger,
randomized and controlled trial. A randomised, controlled study concluded that binaural beat audio could lessen
hospital acute pre-operative anxiety.
Another claimed effect for sound-induced brain synchronization is enhanced learning ability. It was proposed in the
1970s that induced alpha brain waves enabled students to assimilate more information with greater long-term
retention. In more recent times has come more understanding of the role of theta brain waves in behavioural
learning. The presence of theta patterns in the brain has been associated with increased receptivity for learning and
Binaural beats
decreased filtering by the left hemisphere. Based on the association between theta activity (47Hz) and working
memory performance, biofeedback training suggests that normal healthy individuals can learn to increase a specific
component of their EEG activity, and that such enhanced activity may facilitate a working memory task and to a
lesser extent focused attention.
A small media controversy was spawned in 2010 by an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics official comparing binaural
beats to illegal narcotics and warning that interest in websites offering binaural beats could lead to drug use.
However, the entire collection of auditory binaural beat nd EEG literature may need to be re-evaluated. In 1996,
while a student under Karl Pribram at the Behavioral Research And Informational Neural Sciences (BRAINS)
Center, Dennis McClain-Furmanski noticed that virtually all studies followed the same equipment protocol, which
included electrostatic headphones for stimulus presentation, placed on the head over the EEG electrodes. In most
other EEG research this would be considered a source of artifact as the electromaagnets in the headphones would
induce signal into the EEG. To test this, he replicated one of the initial studies done at the Monroe Center, using a
head-shaped styrofoam wig stand as "subject". He was able to replicated the EEG results as given. In 2002,
McClain-Furmanski, now at the National Institute for Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIH,
Bethesda) consulted for a colleague, Dr. James Horton of the University of Virginia at Wise, advising him and one
of his undergraduate lab courses in developing a more rigorous test. Horton and his students developed a series of
commonly used binaural beat stimuli and arranged to have these presented to subjects twice. One battery of the
stimuli would be presented the traditional way, with headphone on top of the EEG electrode cap. The second battery,
however, would be presented through air conduction ear phones. These auditory stimulus presentation device uses
several feet of rubber tubing to conduct the sound to the ear, separating the EEG electrodes from the electromagnetic
transducer so as not to produce artifactual signal. Using the traditional arrangement, all the expected EEG results
were seen. However, with the air conduction device, the same subjects and the same stimuli, no changes in EEG
from resting baseline were seen. The results were presented at the Society for Psychophysiological Research in 2002.
As a result, one researcher with whom the students had been corresponding during the experiment, had a previously
published binaural beat EEG paper withdrawn.
[1] Hemispheric-synchronisation during anaesthesia: a double-blind randomised trial using audiotapes for intra-operative nociception control
(http:/ / www. ncbi.nlm. nih. gov/ pubmed/ 10460529), Jan 2000, Kliempt, Ruta, Ogston, Landeck & Martay
[2] [2] Blauert, J.: Spatial hearing - the psychophysics of human sound localization; MIT Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts (1983), ch. 2.4
[3] Slatky, Harald (1992): Algorithms for direction specific Processing of Sound Signals - the Realization of a binaural
Cocktail-Party-Processor-System (http:/ / www. cocktail-party-processor. de/ english/ algo/ index. html), Dissertation, Ruhr-University
Bochum, ch. 3
[4] Heinrich Wilhelm Dove (1839) Repertorium der Physik Vol.III p.494
[5] [5] "My Big TOE" book 1, Thomas Campbell, p79 ISBN 978-0-9725094-0-4
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