Today, we’re going to put on headphones, lean back in the rocking-chair and relax to calming sounds of the latest digital drug – binaural beats. These digital sound files, as they say, massage your brain and produce various effects from psychedelic experiences to behavior adjustment. Let’s aim our scientific skepticism at binaural beats and especially at some statements about them.
First of all, I’m sure that you can’t wait to listen to binaural beats; so check out YouTube, where you can find a few free samples.
Binaural beats are created by a way of playing different tones in each ear, and the difference between those slightly varying frequencies creates the illusion of the beat. You’ll be able to experience this effect only using headphones, so you shouldn’t overdo with the volume in order to avoid ear bleeding. You should know that, in fact, there is no beat. It’s just an acoustic illusion, a scientific trick.
If you look up binaural beats on-line, you’ll find out that there is an entire industry built on the idea that listening to binaural beats can produce all kinds of desired effects on the brain. They may change your mood, help you keep diet or quit smoking, pump you up for a competition, calm you down, put you to sleep, improve your memory, act as sexual stimulant, cure headaches and even balance out your chakra. Binaural-Beats.com offers a CD for $30 which they call the first “digital drug” in the world. I-Doser.com offers a wide range of music tracks which, as they say, imitate different actual pharmaceutical drugs such as Demerol, OxyContin and Vicodin. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t matter which magic genie you’re looking for. Somebody is selling a binaural audio file on-line claiming to substitute it.
However, you don’t have to buy it. Creating you own binaural beat is not so hard. There many free programs available for that goal. The one that the author of this article used to create samples is Gnaural – a program with an open source code available at Sourceforge web-site. It’s quite easy to use. Though, you may need some practice before you’ll be able to generate some really cool and more professional beats. A binaural beat consists of two simple tones, but most people add some pink background noise – nothing special.
But here’s a question: do binaural beats affect the brain in any special way? Many people think so. The main theory applied to binaural beats is called “resonance capture”. Physics describes it as two systems resonating in different frequencies independently. Getting closer to each other they sync up despite the resonance frequency of the united system. We can observe the examples of resonance among animals in nature: for instance, crickets chirring or toads croaking. Another example is menstrual cycles among women. Even people gathering together for dancing is a kind of sync-up. The main mechanism of binaural beats is that the apperceived low-frequency noise is engaging with your brainwave pattern making your brain reach a several desired state.
Most of these web-sites provide several brief explanations of this term. One that you hear most often is an example of Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch erudite and scientist, who hung two pendulum chronometers next to each other on a wall in 1665. He noticed that chronometers’ frequencies match after all, however in counter-phase as if negating each other. He tried moving one of them or adjusting both, but they always went back to the same counter-phase sync-up. Huygens’ experiment is widely advertised on binaural beats web-sites as a demonstration of how systems can get spiritually connected through a certain energy field. However, their developers must have misunderstood what happened and didn’t read the whole story. Huygens also tried to take down one of the chronometers, and once the physical contact via the wall had been broken, the effect was gone. But it wasn’t the proximity of the watches that was creating that gravitation, but their physical and mechanical connection to each other. When each pendulum started swaying, it made and unbelievably small, equal counter-impact on the wall. With a pair of watches on the wall, the system was naturally seeking for the lowest energetic level according to the laws of thermodynamics; thus, both pendulums were swaying precisely opposed to each other. You can call that a theta-pattern.
Conscious relaxation with your eyes closed quite often creates a frequency of 8-12 Hz, which is called an alpha-pattern. There are only several distinctive patterns and rather abstract descriptions of which activity goes along with them. Statements made by binaural beats providers depends on more detailed and specific matches. For instance, stating that a binaural beat with some frequency produces the same effect in your brain as Vicodin, it is completely implausible. Such statements assume that we know the exact frequency of the electroencephalogram in each of these desired states. But we can say for a fact that brainwaves don’t work that way. It absolutely implausible to claim that the desired state of brain X will be reached if we make it work in the frequency of X Hz.
Moreover, binaural beats assume that brainwaves work the opposite way. Certain states of the brain create certain brainwaves; brainwaves do not create brain’s states. You can’t just order a 6,5 Hz frequency and get an instant dose of true happiness.
During a research conducted in Hofstra University in 2008 patients with high blood pressure listened to 2 different binaural beats with a check sound (babbling brook). There was no difference in the results. During one minor research from Japan 9 tested subjects listened to different binaural beats. Their EEG results varied greatly. It may be concluded that listening to binaural beats may cause activity in the human brain. However, the reason most likely was conscious auditory reaction that didn’t correlate with binaural beats’ frequency.
Though, a 2005 research published in Clinical Neurophysiology showed that it was possible to induce the desired frequency on EEG matching the frequency of the phantom rhythm coded in the binaural beat. However, there was only one tested subject and there wasn’t any plausible allegation.
But we don’t need any research to understand that different people listen to different kinds of music and it will influence them physically and mentally. Many people doing sports have a work-out playlist that keeps up their energy. Some people listen to certain music that helps them go to sleep. The Muzak company built an industry on relaxing music which keeps people in the mood for shopping. Music actually affects our mood, and that’s why we have reasons to expect that binaural beats will have the same effect. Different people might find that certain binaural beats relax or charge with energy. But we’ve never found any reliable evidence of binaural beats’ connection with our brain being stronger or more significant than of any other music track. We absolutely certainly know that several claims made by the most of binaural beats providers cannot be trusted, and there are no reasons to believe that the effect those beats allegedly produce will work for you.
Well, except for one reason: power of infusion. If I give you a music track and tell you that it’s going to cure your headache, you’ll most likely say something like “Well, it didn’t help my headache, but improved my short-time memory.” It would make an interesting experiment to purchase a binaural track stating that it causes alcoholic intoxication, put it on for 5 of your friends, and then ask how it made each of them feel. Give them options. Most likely their answers will vary. If you have a friend who believes in binaural beats I suggest you try out that little test.
Now, in a nutshell, binaural beats surely don’t work as providers claim, but there are no reasons to think that they are less effective than any other music track which affects you the way you want it to. If they cause sleepiness (like in my case), use them to fall asleep. If they relax you or excite, use them accordingly. But don’t expect them to be more effective than any other ordinary music. If any of your acquaintances confirms that, put him through a trial and make sure that he’s right personally.
One thing binaural beats actually can do is relax you. That is what we can state for sure at least. The best way is to try them out for yourself and make your own conclusions not relying on researches because the influence of sounds on each person is individual.