Fashion doesn’t just exist in clothes, hairstyles, or car designs. New items and inventions are also subject to this phenomenon, and fashion can go away and return again in a slightly modified form. So it is with an interesting phenomenon called “binaural beats” or “binaural beats.” What it is, and how it can be applied, we understand together with MedAboutMe.
phantom sound phenomenon
The first to notice this interesting effect were not scientists at all, but musicians — the violinist Giuseppe Tartini and the organist Sorg, and this happened in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Heinrich Wilhelm Bove tried to study the acoustic phenomenon, but he was prevented from achieving any intelligible result by both the lack of a scientific base at that time and technical means, namely, stereo headphones, which were still very far from being invented.
The first significant research results appeared only in the 20th century, and that’s what they were.
If a separate sound signal is fed into each of a person’s ears, with a difference between them of several hertz, the superposition of these sounds causes a “phantom” signal in the brain, equal in frequency to the difference in frequency of the two original signals. Moreover, in reality this sound does not exist, it is an illusion that occurs in the brain.
For example, if a sound with a frequency of 124 Hz is fed into one ear through an earpiece, and 114 Hz into the other, then the combination of these two signals will be perceived by the brain as one, not really existing, and equal in frequency to 10 Hz.
Scientists have suggested that the impact of binaural beats (BR) is able to synchronize the work of both hemispheres of the brain in a special way. And that by selecting sound signals so that the phantom frequency corresponds to one of the frequencies that determine the state of consciousness, it is possible to obtain interesting effects. For example, by choosing initial frequencies so that the BR frequency corresponds to gamma waves with a frequency of about 40 Hz, maximum mental activity can be stimulated. And by turning on the signals, the difference between which corresponds to the frequency of alpha waves (7–13 Hz), it will turn out to cause a state of relaxation and drowsiness, theta waves (4–7 Hz) — deep meditation, etc.
Science and myths
Any interesting discovery necessarily arouses burning interest among all kinds of charlatans, esotericists and metaphysically inclined persons.
Binaural beats have not escaped this fate.
It was said that this “magic effect” is used in their practices by shamans and sorcerers to achieve a state of altered consciousness. Although how they do this without separately supplying sound signals of a certain frequency to each ear separately is completely incomprehensible, but without this condition, the effect does not appear.
If we are talking about an altered state of consciousness, those who tried to create an “acoustic drug” and make money on it could not help but appear. In the early 21st century, “audio drugs” records sold by the ton. Until narcologists explained that no sound can cause the expected state of “psychedelic trip”.
At the beginning of 2022, Australian researchers published the result of an analysis of a survey conducted among more than 30,000 volunteers from around the world. It turned out that more than 5% of respondents are familiar with binaural beats. 75% listened to the signals in order to try to solve problems with sleep and relaxation, 35% hoped to change their mood, and almost 12% honestly admitted that they were trying to get the effect similar to the effect of the use of psychoactive substances. More than half of the respondents intended to use BR to master the technique of lucid dreaming, as well as to get an “out-of-body experience”, “enter the astral plane” or “merge with the universe.” Well, and enhance the effect of the use of psychedelics, at the same time.
Today, various healers, gurus, sorcerers and metaphysicians are trying to adapt the BR effect for their own needs, or rather, for pumping money out of the wallets of gullible people. They promise to cure all diseases with the help of BR, from prostatitis to diabetes. Develop extraordinary abilities, stimulate the opening of the “third eye” and so on. For those who were delighted, we immediately inform you: it does not work.
But real scientists also continue to study the phenomenon of BR.
Binaural beats in medicine and beyond
The BR effect is tried to be applied in various fields.
Techniques for the use of BR in the study of foreign languages have been developed. However, in this case, binaural beats are used in combination with other audiovisual materials, so it is difficult to determine what exactly helps students learn the language more easily. Reviews of such methods are good, but their objectivity remains in doubt.
Observational results have been published that allow assessing the impact of BR as positive in providing psychological assistance to cancer patients, people with post-traumatic syndrome and specialists whose professional activities require constant nervous tension and increased responsibility.
In particular, scientists from Amur State University published an article in 2021 reporting on the successful use of BR as part of psychological assistance to doctors prone to professional burnout syndrome in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
A paper by Korean scientists published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neurosciens describes the results of a BR study to explore the possibility of using binaural beats to help fall asleep and treat insomnia. The researchers report that BR at 6 Hz, combined with the sensory meridian autonomic response perceptual phenomenon, is indeed able to induce brain signals needed to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
American psychoneurologists studied the possibility of using binaural beats in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A positive result was obtained, but only in the group where the use of BR was combined with drug therapy and meditation. The results of the work were published in 2020.
Interesting results were obtained in 2017 by Spanish researchers who studied the effects of BR on memorization processes. It turned out that, depending on the frequency of BR, long-term memory can both improve and deteriorate. This gives grounds for the conclusion that the phenomenon of binaural rhythm requires further research.
Although there are very few reports of the negative effects of BR, and all of them are about frustration and annoyance from listening, doctors warn of the risk that the hearing organs can be exposed to when the signal is too loud. You need to make sure that the sound in the headphones is not too loud.
There are doubts!
In contrast to the examples of positive experience in the use of BR, there are many other points of view, and also confirmed by research.
In 2017, Spanish scientists reported in an article published in Frontiers in Human Neurosciens that they found no significant changes in the brain EEG of participants for any of the studied BR frequencies. There were also no changes in heart rate and in terms of skin conductance. As a result, it was concluded that stimulation with binaural beats cannot be considered as a tool for changing the emotional state and brain activity.
Similar results were obtained by scientists from Canada and France, however, only 16 people took part in their study.
Hector Orozco Perez, neuroscientist
Our study, carried out with the highest possible purity of the experiment, did not reveal any effect of binaural beats on the behavior or mood of 16 student volunteers who took part in the experiments. The subjects reacted even more strongly to ordinary audio signals. The pattern of brain activity under the influence of binaural beats really changed, which was confirmed by electroencephalography. But the “control”, non-binaural audio signals changed it even more noticeably. And none of the signals listened to showed changes in brain waves that could be interpreted as an increase in concentration, relaxation, or other specific state of consciousness of the participants. This result calls into question the claim that binaural beats can affect brain function in some unique way.
American scientists from the University of Texas at Arlington studied the effect of BR on concentration and the ability to remember information, and also did not reveal a significant effect, as reported in an article published in 2022.
So is it worth believing that listening to audio recordings with binaural beats will help to cope with insomnia, for example, or with anxiety?
Strictly speaking, indisputable evidence of the effectiveness of BR has not yet been received, this phenomenon requires a deeper study. But no one canceled the placebo effect, so try it, maybe everything will work out. But we recommend that you still consult a doctor to solve existing problems, classical medicine has a large arsenal of treatments. Perhaps you can find useful information in the article “Healthy sleep: how to get rid of insomnia.”