Binaural beats

Binaural beats

Binaural beats or binaural tones are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, the perception of which arises in the brain independent of physical stimuli. This effect was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.

The brain produces a phenomenon resulting in low-frequency pulsations in the loudness 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 frequency of the tones must be below about 1,000 to 1,500 hertz for the beating to be heard. The difference between the two frequencies must be small (below about 30 Hz) for the effect to occur; otherwise the two tones will be heard separately and no beat will be perceived.

Interest in binaural beats can be classified into two categories. First, they are of interest to neurophysiologists investigating the sense of hearing. Second, that binaural beats may influence the brain in more subtle ways through the entrainment of brainwaves cite journal |author=Oster G |title=Auditory beats in the brain |journal=Sci. Am. |volume=229 |issue=4 |pages=94–102 |year=1973 |pmid=4727697 |doi=] cite book |author=Hutchison, Michael M. |title=Megabrain: new tools and techniques for brain growth and mind expansion |publisher=W. Morrow |location=New York |year=1986 |pages= |isbn=0-688-04880-3 |oclc= |doi=] and can be used to produce relaxation and other health benefits. Fact|date=December 2007


Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered binaural beats in 1839. While research about them continued after that, the subject remained somewhat 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 tremendous 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 (what 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 couldn't perceive binaural beats, but by the end of the week of treatment, the patient was able 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 beats- peaks possibly correlating with specific points in the menstrual cycle (onset of menstruation and approx. 15 after). This data led Oster to wonder if binaural beats could be used as a tool for measuring relative levels of estrogen. cite journal |author=Oster G |title=Auditory beats in the brain |journal=Sci. Am. |volume=229 |issue=4 |pages=94–102 |year=1973 |pmid=4727697 |doi=]


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. cite journal |author=Spitzer MW, Semple MN |title=Transformation of binaural response properties in the ascending auditory pathway: influence of time-varying interaural phase disparity |journal=J. Neurophysiol. |volume=80 |issue=6 |pages=3062–76 |year=1998 |pmid=9862906 |doi=] 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.cite journal |author=Thaut MH |title=Neural basis of rhythmic timing networks in the human brain |journal=Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. |volume=999 |issue= |pages=364–73 |year=2003 |pmid=14681157|doi=10.1196/annals.1284.044] 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. [cite journal |author=Barr DF, Mullin TA, Herbert PS. |title=Application of binaural beat phenomenon with aphasic patients |journal=Arch Otolaryngol. |volume=103 |issue=4 |pages=192-194 |year=1977 |pmid=849195]

Hypothetical effects on brain function


Binaural beats may influence functions of the brain 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 brain wave frequency is said to be likely to move towards the frequency of the stimulus (a process called entrainment).cite journal |author=Gerken GM, Moushegian G, Stillman RD, Rupert AL |title=Human frequency-following responses to monaural and binaural stimuli |journal=Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology |volume=38 |issue=4 |pages=379–86 |year=1975 |pmid=46818 |doi=] In addition, binaural beats have been credibly documented to relate to both spatial perception & stereo auditory recognition, and , according to the frequency following response, activation of various sites in the brain.cite journal |author=Dobie RA, Norton SJ |title=Binaural interaction in human auditory evoked potentials |journal=Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology |volume=49 |issue=3-4 |pages=303–13 |year=1980 |pmid=6158406|doi=10.1016/0013-4694(80)90224-2] cite journal |author=Moushegian G, Rupert AL, Stillman RD |title=Evaluation of frequency-following potentials in man: masking and clinical studies |journal=Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology |volume=45 |issue=6 |pages=711–18 |year=1978 |pmid=84739 |doi=] cite journal |author=Smith JC, Marsh JT, Greenberg S, Brown WS |title=Human auditory frequency-following responses to a missing fundamental |journal=Science |volume=201 |issue=4356 |pages=639–41 |year=1978 |pmid=675250|doi=10.1126/science.675250] cite journal |author=Smith JC, Marsh JT, Brown WS |title=Far-field recorded frequency-following responses: evidence for the locus of brainstem sources |journal=Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology |volume=39 |issue=5 |pages=465–72 |year=1975 |pmid=52439 |doi=] cite journal |author=Yamada O, Yamane H, Kodera K |title=Simultaneous recordings of the brain stem response and the frequency-following response to low-frequency tone |journal=Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology |volume=43 |issue=3 |pages=362–70 |year=1977 |pmid=70337 |doi=]

The stimulus does not have to be aural; it can also be visualcite journal |author=Cvetkovic D, Simpson D, Cosic I |title=Influence of sinusoidally modulated visual stimuli at extremely low frequency range on the human EEG activity |journal=Conference proceedings : ... Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Conference |volume=1 |issue= |pages=1311–4 |year=2006 |pmid=17945633 |doi=10.1109/IEMBS.2006.259565] or a combination of aural and visual. [cite web |url= |title= [Abstract] The Induced Rhythmic Oscillations of Neural Activity in the Human Brain |accessdate=2007-11-14 |format= |work=] (One such example would be Dreamachine.) However, using alpha frequencies with such stimuli can trigger photosensitive epilepsy.

Perceived human hearing is limited to the range of frequencies from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, though Infrasound - sound below 20Hz - still have scientifically observable effects on humans, however, it is not readily audible, especially at low volume levels. While the frequencies of human brain waves are below about 40 Hz. To account for this lack of perception, binaural beat frequencies are used. Beat frequencies of 40 Hz have been produced in the brain with binaural sound and measured experimentally.cite journal |author=Schwarz DW, Taylor P |title=Human auditory steady state responses to binaural and monaural beats |journal=Clinical neurophysiology : official journal of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology |volume=116 |issue=3 |pages=658–68 |year=2005 |pmid=15721080 |doi=10.1016/j.clinph.2004.09.014]

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.cite journal |author=Rogers LJ, Walter DO |title=Methods for finding single generators, with application to auditory driving of the human EEG by complex stimuli |journal=J. Neurosci. Methods |volume=4 |issue=3 |pages=257–65 |year=1981 |pmid=7300432|doi=10.1016/0165-0270(81)90037-6] For example, if a 315 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 325 Hz one into the left ear, the brain is entrained towards the beat frequency (10 Hz, in the alpha range). Since alpha range is associated with relaxation, this has a relaxing effect or if in the beta range, more alertness. An experiment with binaural sound stimulation using beat frequencies in the Beta range on some participants and Delta/Theta range in other participants, found better vigilance performance and mood in those on the awake alert state of Beta range stimulation.cite journal |author=Lane JD, Kasian SJ, Owens JE, Marsh GR |title=Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood |journal=Physiol. Behav. |volume=63 |issue=2 |pages=249–52 |year=1998 |pmid=9423966 |doi=] cite journal |author=Beatty J, Greenberg A, Deibler WP, O'Hanlon JF |title=Operant control of occipital theta rhythm affects performance in a radar monitoring task |journal=Science |volume=183 |issue=127 |pages=871–3 |year=1974 |pmid=4810845|doi=10.1126/science.183.4127.871]

Binaural beat stimulation has been used fairly extensively to induce a variety of states of consciousness, there has been some work done in regards to the effects of these stimuli on relaxation, focus, attention, and states of consciousness.cite book |author=Hutchison, Michael M. |title=Megabrain: new tools and techniques for brain growth and mind expansion |publisher=W. Morrow |location=New York |year=1986 |pages= |isbn=0-688-04880-3 |oclc= |doi=] Studies have shown that with repeated training to close frequency sounds that a plastic reorganization of the brain occurs for the trained frequenciescite journal |author=Menning H, Roberts LE, Pantev C |title=Plastic changes in the auditory cortex induced by intensive frequency discrimination training |journal=Neuroreport |volume=11 |issue=4 |pages=817–22 |year=2000 |pmid=10757526|doi=10.1097/00001756-200003200-00032] and is capable of asymmetric hemispheric balancing.cite journal |author=Gottselig JM, Brandeis D, Hofer-Tinguely G, Borbély AA, Achermann P |title=Human central auditory plasticity associated with tone sequence learning |journal=Learn. Mem. |volume=11 |issue=2 |pages=162–71 |year=2004 |pmid=15054131 |doi=10.1101/lm.63304]

Brain waves

(The precise boundaries between ranges vary among definitions, and there is no universally accepted standard.)

The dominant frequency determines your 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, also other frequencies will 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. Therefore, it is suggested to start with a frequency near to one's current dominant frequency (likely to be about 20 Hz or less for a waking person), and then slowly decreasing 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 (or to raise it to help focusing), there are other controversial, alleged uses for 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, cite journal |author=Peniston EG, Kulkosky PJ |title=Alpha-theta brainwave training and beta-endorphin levels in alcoholics |journal=Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. |volume=13 |issue=2 |pages=271–9 |year=1989 |pmid=2524976 |doi=10.1111/j.1530-0277.1989.tb00325.x] and dopamine with binaural beats.cite journal |author=Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H |title=Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects |journal=Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) |volume=13 |issue=1 |pages=25–32 |year=2007 |pmid=17309374 |doi=10.1089/acm.2006.6196] Among other alleged uses, there are reducing learning time and sleeping needs (theta waves are thought to improve learning, since children, who have stronger theta waves, and remain in this state for a longer period of time than adults, usually learn faster than adultsFact|date=December 2007; and some people find that half an hour in the theta state can reduce sleeping needs up to four hoursFact|date=December 2007; however, this is supposed to happen with "any" way to get into theta state, e.g. meditationFact|date=December 2007); some use them for lucid dreaming and even for attempting out-of-body experiences, astral projection, telepathy and psychokinesis. However, the role of alpha-wave activity in lucid dreaming is subject to ongoing research.cite journal |author=Ogilvie RD, Hunt HT, Tyson PD, Lucescu ML, Jeakins DB |title=Lucid dreaming and alpha activity: a preliminary report |journal=Perceptual and motor skills |volume=55 |issue=3 Pt 1 |pages=795–808 |year=1982 |pmid=7162915 |doi=] cite journal |author=Korabel'nikova EA, Golubev VL |title= [Dreams and interhemispheric asymmetry] |language=Russian |journal=Zhurnal nevrologii i psikhiatrii imeni S.S. Korsakova / Ministerstvo zdravookhraneniia i meditsinskoĭ promyshlennosti Rossiĭskoĭ Federatsii, Vserossiĭskoe obshchestvo nevrologov Vserossiĭskoe obshchestvo psikhiatrov |volume=101 |issue=12 |pages=51–4 |year=2001 |pmid=11811128 |doi=] cite journal |author=Spoormaker VI, van den Bout J |title=Lucid dreaming treatment for nightmares: a pilot study |journal=Psychotherapy and psychosomatics |volume=75 |issue=6 |pages=389–94 |year=2006 |pmid=17053341 |doi=10.1159/000095446] .)Alpha-theta brainwave training has also been used successfully for the treatment of addictions, cite journal |author=Peniston EG, Kulkosky PJ |title=Alpha-theta brainwave training and beta-endorphin levels in alcoholics |journal=Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. |volume=13 |issue=2 |pages=271–9 |year=1989 |pmid=2524976 |doi=10.1111/j.1530-0277.1989.tb00325.x] cite journal |author=Saxby E, Peniston EG |title=Alpha-theta brainwave neurofeedback training: an effective treatment for male and female alcoholics with depressive symptoms |journal=Journal of clinical psychology |volume=51 |issue=5 |pages=685–93 |year=1995 |pmid=8801245|doi=10.1002/1097-4679(199509)51:5<685::AID-JCLP2270510514>3.0.CO;2-K] cite journal |author=Watson CG, Herder J, Passini FT |title=Alpha biofeedback therapy in alcoholics: an 18-month follow-up |journal=Journal of clinical psychology |volume=34 |issue=3 |pages=765–9 |year=1978 |pmid=690224|doi=10.1002/1097-4679(197807)34:3<765::AID-JCLP2270340339>3.0.CO;2-5] for the recovery of repressed memories, but as with other techniques this can lead to false memories. cite journal |author=Loftus EF, Davis D |title=Recovered memories |journal=Annual review of clinical psychology |volume=2 |issue= |pages=469–98 |year=2006 |pmid=17716079 |doi=10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095315]

A trial of Delta binaural beat technology over 60 days has shown positive effect on self-reported psychologic measures, especially anxiety. There was significant decrease in trait anxiety, an increase in quality of life, and a decrease in insulin-like growth factor-1 and dopamine cite journal |author=Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H |title=Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects |journal=Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) |volume=13 |issue=1 |pages=25–32 |year=2007 |pmid=17309374 |doi=10.1089/acm.2006.6196] and has been successfully shown to decrease mild anxiety [cite journal |author=Le Scouarnec RP, Poirier RM, Owens JE, Gauthier J, Taylor AG, Foresman PA. |title=Use of binaural beat tapes for treatment of anxiety: a pilot study of tape preference and outcomes |journal=Altern Ther Health Med. |volume=7 |issue=1 |pages=58-63 |year=2001 |location=Clinique Psych in Montreal, Quebec. |pmid=11191043] and lessen hospital acute pre-operative anxiety. cite journal |author=Padmanabhan R, Hildreth AJ, Laws D |title=A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery |journal=Anaesthesia |volume=60 |issue=9 |pages=874–7 |year=2005 |pmid=16115248 |doi=10.1111/j.1365-2044.2005.04287.x]

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. cite book |author=Harris, Bill |title=Thresholds of the Mind |publisher=Centerpointe Press |location= |year= |pages=Appendix 1, pp151-178 |isbn=0-9721780-0-7 |oclc= |doi=] In more recent times has come more understanding of the role of theta brain waves in behavioural learning cite journal |author=Berry SD, Seager MA |title=Hippocampal theta oscillations and classical conditioning |journal=Neurobiol Learn Mem |volume=76 |issue=3 |pages=298–313 |year=2001 |pmid=11726239 |doi=10.1006/nlme.2001.4025] The presence of theta patterns in the brain has been associated with increased receptivity for learning and decreased filtering by the left hemisphere.cite book |author=Harris, Bill |title=Thresholds of the Mind |publisher=Centerpointe Press |location= |year= |pages=Appendix 1, pp151-178 |isbn=0-9721780-0-7 |oclc= |doi=] cite journal |author=Seager MA, Johnson LD, Chabot ES, Asaka Y, Berry SD |title=Oscillatory brain states and learning: Impact of hippocampal theta-contingent training |journal=Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. |volume=99 |issue=3 |pages=1616–20 |year=2002 |pmid=11818559 |doi=10.1073/pnas.032662099] cite journal |author=Griffin AL, Asaka Y, Darling RD, Berry SD |title=Theta-contingent trial presentation accelerates learning rate and enhances hippocampal plasticity during trace eyeblink conditioning |journal=Behav. Neurosci. |volume=118 |issue=2 |pages=403–11 |year=2004 |pmid=15113267 |doi=10.1037/0735-7044.118.2.403] Based on the association between theta activity (4-7 Hz) 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.cite journal |author=Vernon D, Egner T, Cooper N, "et al" |title=The effect of training distinct neurofeedback protocols on aspects of cognitive performance |journal=International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology |volume=47 |issue=1 |pages=75–85 |year=2003 |pmid=12543448 |doi=]


Warning: For these examples to be effective, it is required that the listener use headphones. Please ensure the volume is set to a comfortable and safe level before playing.

Direct downloads of the above files:

ee also

* Gnaural
* Hemi-Sync
* Brainwave synchronization
* Electroencephalography
* Neurofeedback
* Mind machine
* Human enhancement
* Intelligence amplification
* Neural oscillations
* Evoked potential
* Event-related potential
* Induced activity
* Ongoing brain activity
* Lucid Dream
* Schumann Resonance


External links

* [ Stanford University thesis, review of literature on brainwave entrainment; Chapter 4 binaural sound] Stanford
* [ Gnaural] - GNU General Public License binaural beat generator for Win/Linux ( [ Java version] )
* [ SBaGen] - GNU General Public License binaural beat generator for Win/Mac/Linux
* [ MetaMind] - open-source Java binaural Beat Brainwave Mind Machine program for Win/Mac/Linux
* [ MultiFreq] - A free and versatile program for creating binaural beats
* [ Free and Open Source Binaural Beat Examples]
* [ Explanation of binaural beats using examples]
* [ "Hearing Lecture Notes (5): Binaural hearing and localization"] from University of Sussex

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