Producers and enthusiasts alike assure us that these strange, repetitive tones relieve stress, open the mind, and provide focus or even healing. Detractors counter that there’s no hard scientific evidence which identifies the exact mechanism responsible for the effects of binaural beats on the mind, so it might turn out that they’re nothing but noise. But what are binaural beats, and what is the evidence that they truly do have a beneficial effect on the mind & body?
A binaural beat is an auditory illusion created by two different tones that are played through both ears simultaneously. These tones are called “pure-tone sine waves” and range from Delta at the low end of the spectrum at under 4 Hz to Gamma, the highest-energy frequency at 30-50 Hz. Today there is a general consensus in the scientific community that when the ears are exposed to certain types of sine wave tones, intriguing responses are elicited in the brain. Theta waves, for instance, are reported to aid sleep, while Alpha brain waves are considered the normal, conscious waking brain waves. Accordingly, Alpha binaural beats are reported to help with focus and creativity.
The history of binaural beats goes back all the way to the 18th century to two European contemporaries named Wells and Venturi who blazed the trail for the scientific research into the human perception of sound. There’s been plenty of time for a controversy to brew up over the subject since these pioneering experiments were conducted over two centuries ago, so, as with any controversial topic, a thorough and objective assessment of the evidence is required. How does the scientific community weigh in?
A quick search through the publically available scientific literature is enough to determine that plenty of peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on binaural beats and their effects on human subjects. Studies have been done, for instance, on the effects of binaural beats on creativity, their effects on memory, their effects on heart rate, and even on how this potentially revolutionary science affects cognition and mood.
The conclusions arrived at by the researchers that have investigated binaural beats are as varied as the researchers and the institutions they represent. Through the clutter, the general consensus appears to be that the auditory illusion known as ‘binaural beats’ works for anxiety & stress, may help facilitate sleep and has some sort of profound effect on the brain & mind even if the exact mechanism at work has yet to be identified.
Here’s a thought: If it’s true what cutting edge science says, that the brain is not the originator of awareness, but that it receives consciousness in the same way a radio receives a broadcast, then perhaps binaural beats alter the way in which consciousness is received by the brain. While research into binaural beats is still ongoing, there is at least one thing that’s clear about this auditory illusion: binaural beats continue to gain popularity among hobbyists and the alternative medical community every year, and this trend shows no sign of stopping.
What’s the bottom line when it comes to binaural beats? Multiple scientific sources suggest that their beneficial effects may be credible. Anecdotally, there’s a large community that attests to their benefits. There don’t appear to be any risks of listening to binaural beats, and in many cases listening is free. If you’re looking to relax, focus, or sleep better, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to give binaural beats a try. Remember to wear headphones when listening, otherwise the auditory illusion doesn’t work as well.
Auditory Beat Stimulation and its Effects on Cognition and Mood States
The Effect of Binaural Beats on Visuospatial Working Memory and Cortical Connectivity
The impact of binaural beats on creativity