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Sounds like hype: there's scant evidence the 'binaural beats' illusion relaxes your brain

Binaural beats

Binaural beats

Binaural beats are an auditory illusion that has stress-busing properties. Proponents claim that listening to binaural beats can boost focus, promote relaxation, and reduce stress and anxiety.

However, some studies concluded that the impact of binaural beats on cognitive performance "remains to be seen."

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Sounds like hype: there's scant evidence the 'binaural beats' illusion relaxes your brain

Sounds like hype: there's scant evidence the 'binaural beats' illusion relaxes your brain

https://theconversation.com/sounds-like-hype-theres-scant-evidence-the-binaural-beats-illusion-relaxes-your-brain-132197

theconversation.com

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Key Ideas

Binaural beats

Binaural beats are an auditory illusion that has stress-busing properties. Proponents claim that listening to binaural beats can boost focus, promote relaxation, and reduce stress and anxiety.

However, some studies concluded that the impact of binaural beats on cognitive performance "remains to be seen."

Explaining binaural beats

  • Binaural beats is a perceptual illusion that happens when two slightly different frequencies (notes) are played into each ear separately, usually using headphones.
  • The resonance between the two frequencies is interpreted as a third sound - or binaural beat - and is heard as a frequency between the two played frequencies.
  • The claim is that this third frequency prompts brain cells to begin firing at the same frequency, which purportedly is similar to the frequency of brain waves that occur during deep sleep at our most relaxed states.

Different types of brain waves

Specific frequencies are thought to be involved in specific cognitive tasks.

  • During deep sleep, the predominant brain activity occurs with frequencies between 1 and 4 Hertz (delta waves.) Delta waves are associated with learning and motivation.
  • Theta waves (4-7Hz) are linked to memory and emotional regulation.

Brain entrainment - where brain cells fire at the same frequency - is a real effect that happens in response to particular rhythmic frequencies perceived by our senses. A deep-pitched musical tone can cause your brain cells to start firing at the same frequency.

Research conclusions on binaural beats

  • The authors played binaural or monaural (normal) beats to 16 participants, and recorded their brain activity with EEG.
  • They found both beats can entrain the brain to their particular frequency, but participants described no significant effect on their mood changes.
  • However, binaural beats can generate "cross-frequency connectivity," where the brain coordinates its activity across different types of brain waves.
  • It's then possible that binaural beats can be beneficial to some types of cognition, including memory recall.
  • An analysis of 35 studies demonstrated a modest effect on attention, memory, anxiety, and pain perception. However, these were not tested in the current study.

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Binaural beats might affect our brains in some way

They may boost our attention span, calm our anxiety and promote pain relief, although evidence is still insufficient. Studies showed that the effects increased the longer people listened.

But whatever mechanism is creating these changes remains unknown.

How binaural beats work

You can hear these beats best with a pair of good headphones. When each ear picks up a slightly different pitch, the brain tries to compensate and finds a frequency somewhere in the middle. This supposedly causes both hemispheres of the brain to harmonize their brainwaves, a phenomenon called neural entrainment.

Brainwaves are the regular patterns that firing neurons create in our brains, so binaural beats could be bringing these rhythmic patterns into alignment (some research still debates this).

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