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It’s a popular perception among many people that listening to binaural beats has a special effect on the brain.
They think binaural beats can help you follow a diet or stop smoking.
Or they think these sounds can amp you up for a competition or calm you down, or even improve memory recall, focus and concentration.
The question is…
Doesn’t listening to any type of relaxing music have a similar effect?
In this post, we’ll find out if listening to specific frequencies can have a better impact on your mental prowess than listening to Mozart for Pink Floyd!
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What Are Binaural Beats?
The word binaural means “having or relating to two ears.”
The process works by sending a slightly different sound frequency to each ear. This has to be done simultaneously and through earphones or headphones.
When two different pure tones are presented separately but simultaneously to each ear of a listener, the listener hears the illusion of a third tone.
This third does “appears” in addition to the two pure-tones presented to each ear. And it is this third tone that is called a binaural beat.
Let’s break this down:
When you play a 350 Hertz (Hz) tone in the left ear and a 360 Hertz tone in the right, it yields a beat with a frequency of 10 Hertz. This third beat is the binaural beat.
The brain then uses a process known as ‘frequency following response’ to follow along at the new frequency (10 Hz). This process produces brainwaves at that rate of Hertz.
However, this outcome (apparently) occurs only if the the difference matches the alpha frequency range that lies between 7-11 Hz.
Music or white noise embedded with binaural beats is very often used along with different meditation techniques and positive affirmations to gain varying results.
In the memory training and memory improvement world, some claim you will experience results ranging from improvement in recall, concentration, focus, creativity and alertness.
There is more:
Listening to these beats is also said to provide relaxation, stress reduction, pain management, and improved sleep quality.
Who Heard Them First?
A Brief History of Binaural Beats
Binaural beats were first described in 1839 by Prussian scientist H.W. Dove.
However, it was Gerald Oster’s article in Scientific American in 1973 that brought this process to modern attention.
According to Oster, the tones needed to produce binaural beats had to be relatively low-frequency and the beats themselves were in the range of one to 30 hertz. This is the range the human brainwave frequencies fall in.
What to know the real story?
Humans have the ability to “hear” binaural beats as a result of evolutionary adaptation.
“Many evolved species can detect binaural beats because of their brain structure. The frequencies at which binaural beats can be detected change depending upon the size of the species’ cranium. In the human, binaural beats can be detected when carrier waves are below approximately 1000 Hz.” (Oster, 1973)
The Binaural Process In Real Music
Of course, binaural beats in terms of therapy is quite different than the binaural process found in music. This process was apparently invented by Manfred Shunke who used models of the human head created with the help of computer design software.
As music historian Rob Bowman wrote in the notes for Lou Reed’s Between Thought and Expression:
“The detail was as precise as possible down to the size, shape, and bone structure of the ear and ear canal. Microphones were then designed to fit each ear so, theoretically, what they recorded would be exactly what a human sitting in the position the head was placed would actually hear.”
Binaural Beats To Manage Pain:
Why The Truth Matters For Your Memory
Chronic pain impacts between 10-50% of the adult population, while costing U.S. businesses over $61 billion annually.
The neuromatrix theory suggests that the brain’s inability to return to a state of equilibrium is at the crux of chronic pain (Melzack, 2001; Melzack, 2005).
Binaural beats has been effective in synchronizing brain waves, also known as entrainment, with an external stimulus (Kennel, Taylor Lyon, & Bourguignon, 2010), and has been associated with a number of positive psychological outcomes (David, Katz, & Naftali, 2010; Lane, Kasian, Owens, & Marsh, 1998).
Research shows that an external audio protocol of theta-binaural beats is effective at reducing perceived change in pain severity.
How does this affect your memory?
The answer is simple:
Pain free people pay better attention to their surroundings.
Freedom from pain means that your levels of focus and concentration are automatically better than when impacted by ongoing or recurrent pain.
Being pain free is especially important for learning, something that requires high levels of concentration.
Kind of like crossword puzzles require high levels of concentration (not that there is much evidence they will improve your memory).
Speaking of which:
Do Gamma Brain Waves Improve Memory & Concentration?
The highest frequency brain waves are apparently called gamma waves. These waves can have a frequency of anywhere between 25 and 100 Hz.
People whose brains produce more gamma waves are said to have greater ability to concentrate, focus and experience higher levels of cognition.
A recent study by Jirakittayakorn and Wongsawat tried to find whether “modulation of the brain activity can lead to manipulation of cognitive functions. The stimulus used in this study was 40-Hz binaural beat because binaural beat induces frequency following response.”
According to the study, listening to 40-Hz binaural beat for 20 minutes enhanced working memory function evaluated by word list recall task.
Does that mean we can change our brainwave patterns by listening to specific sounds?
But also maybe not!
A research project by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist, found that the brainwaves of trained monks who regularly engaged in meditation produced powerful Gamma waves. Whereas the control group – with non-meditating volunteers – had little to no gamma brain waves.
What does this fact imply?
One way to improve concentration is to go Buddha style and practice long-term or short-term meditation.
Within a week of consistent meditation, you can start to experience improved concentration. So long as you’re not letting binaural beats combined with smartphone addiction get in the way.
Meditation can be used to remember something because better concentration has a direct link to improved memory.
But Can Binaural Beats Help Memory?
Not in theory or practice according to a research article by David Siever in 2009 called Entraining Tones and Binaural Beats.
But before we go any further, the actual claims are important to look at.
So let’s take a step back and try understand how binaural beats work.
The proponents of binaural beats claim that it induces brainwave “entrainment.”
This entrainment supposedly influences and drives brainwave activity to a more desired mental state.
More specifically, entrainment is a “synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles” and the process of brainwave entrainment relies on the natural phenomena of synchronization.
Think of it like this:
When you strike a tuning fork and then place another one next to it, the second tuning fork automatically starts to vibrate at the same frequency.
This is a natural synchronization. Pendulum clocks, metronomes, fireflies are few other examples of natural synchronization.
However, Siever states that entrainment occurs only when a constant and repetitive sound of sufficient strength to “excite” the thalamus is present.
Siever also noted that binaural beats are not very noticeable because the modulation depth (the difference between loud and quiet) is very small at just 3db, a 2 to 1 ratio.
Here’s a longer quote:
“This means that binaural beats are unlikely to produce any significant entrainment because they don’t activate the thalamus. But they do have some hypnotic and relaxing effect by way of dissociation (as does white noise and music).
This outcome may be, in part, due to the Ganzfeld effect. The Ganzfeld effect is the process where the mind quietens as a result of having a monotonous sensory input.
A natural example of the Ganzfeld effect may be experienced while sitting in a large field in the country while staring into the wide, blue sky. While sitting there, imagine listening to the white noise from the fluttering of leaves on the trees – away from the noise and other stimulation of urban life.
In other words, thanks to the Ganzfeld effect, binaural beats, through passive means, may help a person relax.
If, in theory binaural beats do not produce entrainment, do they produce entrainment and drive brainwaves in reality? The simple answer is NO!”
It’s not just Siever!
In another study, Gerald Oster used an EEG oscilloscope to conclude that binaural beats produce very small evoked potentials within the auditory cortex of the brain.
What does this?
It means that binaural beats are of little benefit in producing AE or auditory entrainment. (Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain. Scientific American)
Researcher Dale S. Foster also found that binaural beats in the alpha frequency produced no more alpha brainwaves than listening to a surf sound.
Here’s Foster’s conclusion:
“The analysis of variance of the data revealed that there were no significant differences in alpha production either within sessions across conditions or across sessions.
Although alpha production was observed to increase in the binaural-beats condition early in some sessions, a tendency was observed for the subjects to move through alpha into desynchronized theta, indicating light sleep.
Subjective reports of “dozing off” corroborated these observations. These periods of light sleep — almost devoid of alpha — affected the average alpha ratios.”
A More Effective Way To Gain Mental Prowess
The beauty of the human brains is that it needs a goal to improve.
Your memory improvement training should always be linked to memorizing information that will immediately improve your life. 4x Australian memory champion Tansel Ali agrees.
Moreover, the memory improvement activities should always be measurable since tracking your outcomes leads to rapid improvement.
This is where the secret method of building Memory Palaces the Magnetic Memory Method way comes into play.
Using this Method, you not only get to remember the information faster, but also get predictable and reliable permanence that grows in strength each time.
All other memory techniques including listening to binaural beats can be used inside of Memory Palaces.
But this never takes place the other way around (For example, you can’t use Memory Palaces inside of the Major Method the way you can use the Major Method inside of Memory Palaces.)
If you are looking for a complete brain workout try this brain fitness method…
You can also see more Unconventional Techniques Guaranteed To Help You Conjure Your Best-Ever Ideas.
The Ultimate Memory Improvement Beats?
Listen to Music That Inspires!
Use sound beats or music as a means of relaxation, rejuvenation or inspiration.
When you feel relaxed and inspired you can create effective Magnetic Imagery that will enable you to build better Memory Palaces to improve recall, retention and memory.
Now is that music to your ears, or what?
Can the benefits gained through listening to Binaural Beats Audio music offer positive effects to persons with hearing loss in one ear? As I read your information where 2 different pure tones are sent independently to separate ears, thats where the 3rd tone heard is created from the 2 original ones that the listener now hears. What is recommended, or not, for hearing impaired participants?
Interesting question, Colleen, especially since I have significant hearing loss in my left ear.
As I mentioned in this material, I’m not convinced there is a benefit from these sounds that have to do with the claims made about them. I think it’s more about frame effect and placebo.
If it is these features and not the sounds themselves, then hearing damage won’t matter and you can still benefit.
Does that make sense?
Can listening to Binaural Beats w/out music help to increase cognitive function in individuals who’ve had frontal lobe damage? What is the difference in the Hz amount one should listen to? I’ve read that cognition may be improved when the Alphas are btwn 7-11 and the Betas are btwn 15-40? But what does that mean in terms of 423hz. 528hz, etc. That’s how most apps are listed. How do I read those numbers in order to make sure I’m in the right range for cognition improvement and not in the Theta range which I’ve heard may harm memory?
THANK YOU & Namaste
Thanks for your question, Venus.
As I hoped to make clear in this article, I’m not convinced there’s much more than framing effect and placebo to binaural beats.
If you look for research on those numbers, always ask the author or person making the claim, “How do you know these numbers correlate with the outcomes you’re promising?”
Does this work long term? Will this affect or aggravate my anxiety?
As mentioned in the article, I find it dubious that binaural beats work at all. Anything that helps likely does so simply because of the benefits of listening to music.
Please consult a proper medical professional for advice related to anxiety.