Binaural beats are a unique auditory experience. The premise behind the science is that one uses headphones and listens to a different frequency in one ear than the other. In more advanced terms, the two sinusoids (having a fixed amplitude and frequency) of sound create a similar amplitude and frequency in the form of brain waves (Licklider et al., 1950). The research of Başar et al. (2001) has revealed that specifically networked delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma oscillations function as communication webs throughout the neurons of the human brain. They further posit that oscillatory functioning may serve a major purpose in the systems of memory and overall neuronal integration at sensory and cognitive levels (Başar et al., 2001). A binaural beat operates under the function of one standard signal f1 and the dichotic difference with the absolute value of f1-f2 (Perrott & Nelson, 1969). In other words, one sound wave is operating at a slightly difference frequency in one ear as compared to the frequency of the other ear (Oster, 1973; Wahbeh et al., 2007). According to Licklider et al. (1950), at low frequencies neurons are able to form some measure of brain wave synchrony, whereas with high frequencies neurons do so poorly, yet at intermediate frequencies each afferent pathway is precisely synced, and as a result, neurons operate under the resulting common brain wave, where this phenomenon is known as a binaural beat. These changes in brain waves can be measured with electroencephalography (EEG) which is a noninvasive method in which brain activity is measured.
As Lane et al. (1998) so concisely explained:
“when two pure auditory signals of similar frequency are mixed together, the phase interference between their waveforms produces a composite signal with a frequency midway between the upper and lower frequencies and an amplitude modulation that occurs with a frequency equal to the difference between the two original frequencies” (p. 241).
Benefits and Effects
- Binaural beats have been found to positively influence affective and psychomotor responses (Lane et al., 1998);
- Increase subjective measures of quality of life (Wahbeh et al., 2007);
- Effectively increase mood (Vernon, 2009) as well as performance ratings of vigilance (Lane et al., 1998);
- Reduces mental fatigue (Lim et al., 2018);
- Has been found to reduce anxiety (Wahbeh et al., 2007; Wiwatwongwana et al., 2016);
- Decreases insulin-like growth factor-1 (Wahbeh et al., 2007);
- The brains of those of advanced age are able to distinguish binaural beats nearly as effectively as young people, since the frequency these beats operate is distinguishable from everyday sound waves (Oster, 1973);
- Shown to increase creativity (Reedijk, et al., 2013);
- Decreases striatal dopamine levels which results in positive mood and divergent thinking (Akbari Chermahini, 2012; Reedijk et al., 2013; Wahbeh et al., 2007);
- Able to improve working memory capacity (Kraus & Porubanová, 2015; Beauchene et al., 2017; Lim et al., 2018);
- Enhances attention (Simmons, 2016; Lim et al., 2018);
- May potentially benefit those with ADHD (Simmon, 2016);
- Shown to increase cognitive flexibility (Hommel et al., 2016);
- Found to reduce negative mood and depressive symptoms in the elderly (Sung et al., 2017);
Binaural beats show their effectiveness with as little as 2 minutes of exposure (Kraus & Porubanová, 2015), though 30 or more minutes of exposure is recommended (Lane et al., 1998).
High quality headphones must be used for the neural synchronicity to effectively manifest.
Akbari Chermahini, S., & Hommel, B. (2012). More creative through positive mood? Not everyone!. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 319. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00319
Başar, E., Başar-Eroglu, C., Karakaş, S., & Schürmann, M. (2001). Gamma, alpha, delta, and theta oscillations govern cognitive processes. International journal of psychophysiology, 39(2-3), 241-248.
Beauchene, C., Abaid, N., Moran, R., Diana, R. A., & Leonessa, A. (2017). The effect of binaural beats on verbal working memory and cortical connectivity. Journal of neural engineering, 14(2), 026014.
Hommel, B., Sellaro, R., Fischer, R., Borg, S., & Colzato, L. S. (2016). High-frequency binaural beats increase cognitive flexibility: evidence from dual-task crosstalk. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1287. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01287
Kraus, J., & Porubanová, M. (2015). The effect of binaural beats on working memory capacity. Studia psychologica, 57(2), 135. doi: 10.21909/sp.2015.02.689
Lane, J. D., Kasian, S. J., Owens, J. E., & Marsh, G. R. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiology & behavior, 63(2), 249-252. doi: 10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00436-8
Licklider, J. C. R., Webster, J. C., & Hedlun, J. M. (1950). On the frequency limits of binaural beats. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 22(4), 468-473. doi: 10.1121/1.1906629
Lim, J. H., Kim, H., Jeon, C., & Cho, S. (2018). The effects on mental fatigue and the cognitive function of mechanical massage and binaural beats (brain massage) provided by massage chairs. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 32, 32-38. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.04.008
Mehdizadeh, M. (2017). tumblr [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/2awzIErSaG0
Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain. Scientific American, 229(4), 94-103.
Perrott, D. R., & Nelson, M. A. (1969). Limits for the detection of binaural beats. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 46(6B), 1477-1481. doi: 10.1121/1.1911890
Sung, H. C., Lee, W. L., Li, H. M., Lin, C. Y., Wu, Y. Z., Wang, J. J., & Li, T. L. (2017). Familiar Music Listening with Binaural Beats for Older People with Depressive Symptoms in Retirement Homes. Neuropsychiatry, 7(4), 347-353.
Simmons, L. C. (2016). Binaural auditory beats, a promising therapy and cognitive enhancement [PDF].
Reedijk, S. A., Bolders, A., & Hommel, B. (2013). The impact of binaural beats on creativity. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 786. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00786
Vernon, D. (2009). Human Potential: Exploring Techniques Used to Enhance Human Performance. London: Routledge.
Wahbeh, H., Calabrese, C., & Zwickey, H. (2007). Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(1), 25-32. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.6196
Wiwatwongwana, D., Vichitvejpaisal, P., Thaikruea, L., Klaphajone, J., Tantong, A., & Wiwatwongwana, A. (2016). The effect of music with and without binaural beat audio on operative anxiety in patients undergoing cataract surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Eye, 30(11), 1407.