The Science of Binaural Beats

Binaural Beats Science Lesson

If we look at the history of binaural beats we find that the first scientific discovery of them was in 1839. Even though small amounts of research continued after this, it wasn't until 1973 when Gerald Oster wrote "Auditory Beats in the Brain" that the scientific research of binaural beats exploded. Now science has brought in a whole new era in the way we learn, create, deal with stress, control our moods, meditate, sleep, spiritually and personally grow, and vast amounts of other things.

How Scientists Study Binaural Beats and the Brain

So how do scientist and researchers study the effects of binaural beats on the brain? Well they use something called an Electroencephalography machine, or better known as an EEG. An EEG machine records electrical activity along the scalp produced by the firing of neurons within the brain. Basically researchers are able to study the brainwave frequencies of subjects when induced by binaural beats by hooking them up to an EEG machine.

Binaural Beats Scientific Research

Right after Oster's paper, Robert Monroe began investigating binaural beats on consciousness. He did thousands of experiments, using an EEG machine to monitor subjects' electrical brainwave patterns and concluded that binaural beats could in fact influence brainwave frequencies. He also found that the brain did not respond in the area of hearing or in one hemisphere or the other, but rather the entire brain resonated. The brainwaves in both hemispheres exhibited identical frequencies, amplitude, and coherence.

Since this time many researchers and scientists have also confirmed that binuaral beats do in fact work. Researcher, Dr. Lester Fehmi, the director of the Princeton Behavioral Medicine and Biofeedback Clinic, is one of the foremost authority on hemispheric synchronization in the brain. From his own research and studies he also confirms that hemispheric synchronization and brain entrainment can be induced by binaural beats.

Language and speech pathologist Dr. Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., stated:

"Research supports the theory that different frequencies presented to each ear through stereo headphones... create a difference tone (or binaural beat) as the brain puts together the two tones it actually hears. Through EEG monitoring the difference tone is identified by a change in the electrical pattern produced by the brain. For example, frequencies of 200 Hz and 210 Hz produce a binaural beat frequency of 10 Hz. Monitoring of the brain’s electricity (EEG) shows that the brain produces increased 10 Hz activity with equal frequency and amplitude of the wave form in both hemispheres."

Dr. Arthur Hastings, Ph.D., conducted various tests on subjects with binaural beats designed specifically for sleeping. He wrote a paper called "Tests of the Sleep Induction Technique" where he recorded his results. In his paper he describes how the binaural beats were designed to slow the brain wave patterns from a normal waking Beta frequency to a slower Alpha frequency, then to a slower Theta frequency, our brainwaves when we are dreaming, and finally to Delta, the brainwave frequencies of deep sleep. Using an EEG machine to monitor the subjects, he reported that the shift in brainwave frequencies of the various subjects suggested that the binaural beats were in fact influencing the brainwave patterns.

Here F. Holmes Atwater, from the Monroe Institute, describes the neurophysics and science of the binaural beat brainwave entrainment process:

"Within the sound processing centers of the brain, pulse stimulation provides relevant information to the higher centers of the brain. In the case of a wave form phase difference the electron pulse rate in one part of a sound-processing center is greater than in another. The differences in electron pulse stimulation within the sound processing centers of the brain are an anomaly. This anomaly(the difference in electron pulse stimulation)comes and goes as the two different frequency wave forms mesh in and out of phase. As a result of these constantly increasing and decreasing differences in electron pulse stimulation,an amplitude modulated standing wave (the binaural beat) is generated within the sound processing centers of the brain itself. It is this standing wave which acts to entrain brain waves."

Atwater also describes how binaural beats generate two amplitude modulated standing waves, one in each hemisphere's olivary nucleus. Binaural beats will entrain both hemispheres to the same frequency, establishing equivalent electromagnetic environments and maximizing inter-hemispheric neural communication. Or in much simpler terms, binaural beats induce the
brainwave frequencies into the desired effects.

Scientists are Excited About Binaural Beats

Even scientist are exited about the power and benefits of binaural beats. Neurophysiologist John Kiebeskind had to say this about binaural beats and brainwave entrainment, "You try to be more conservative and not say such wild and intriguing things, but damn! The field is wild and intriguing...We are at a frontier, and it's a terribly exciting time to be in this line of work" Neurochemist Candace Pert, of the National Institute of Mental Health, said, "There's a revolution going on... The present era in neuroscience is comparable to the time when Louis Pasteur first found out that germs cause disease."

Binaural Beats Delay Aging

It's proven that by exercising our brain, we have better mental and emotional health and increased intellectual functioning. Researcher Robert Cosgrove, Jr., Ph.D., M.D., and an authority in pharmaceutics and biomedical engineering, noted that long term effects of binaural beat stimulation "have been observed by us to be an excellent neuro-pathway exerciser. As such we believe it has great potential for use in promoting optimal cerebral performance." He went further to say that, "maintaining and improving cerebral performance throughout life delays for decades the deterioration of the brain traditionally associated with aging..."

Binaural beats not only delay aging of the brain but also the body too. Richard Marsh, M.D., says, "Studies indicate that human growth hormone deficiency is relevant to health and responsible for early onset of degenerative disease, or even premature death." Dr. Giampapa, a former President of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine, reveals that Alpha, Theta and Delta brainwave frequencies increase the production of the human growth hormone which are the exact frequencies binaural beats induce.

Binaural Beats Promote Super-Learning

Science has found that the lower frequencies binaural beats induce dramatically increases learning abilities, also known as super-learning. Psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov found that when students are in the Alpha state they learn over five times as much information with less study time per day, with greater long-term retention. In some cases, as much as even thirty times as much was learned.

Speech-Language pathologist Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., says that, "The introduction of Theta signals... into the learning environment theoretically allows for a broader and deeper processing of the information provided by the teacher.. And increases... focus of attention and creates a mental set of open receptivity." She also noted that when binaural beats are used in a classroom setting, children exhibited "improved focus of attention" and "a greater openness and enthusiasm for learning."

Binaural Beats Help With Addiction

The lower frequencies that binaural beats induce, Alpha and Theta, have also been shown to help with addiction recovery. Dr. Eugene Peniston and Dr. Paul Kulkosky, of the University of Southern Colorado, trained a group of alcoholics to enter the Alpha and Theta states. These alcoholics showed a recovery rate much greater than a control group. Thirteen months later, this Alpha-Theta group showed "sustained prevention of relapse," and these findings were confirmed in follow-up study three years later. In addition, this group showed a marked personality transformation, including significant increases in qualities such as warmth, stability, conscientiousness, boldness, imaginativeness, and self-control, along with decreases in depression and anxiety.

Medical researcher Dr. Gene W. Brockopp also believes behavior modification and addiction recovery is enhanced when the subject can be placed in slower, more receptive brainwave frequencies. He speculates that using binaural beats to induce brainwave changes can

"....actively induce a state of deactivation in which the brain is passive, but not asleep; awake, but not involved with the ‘clutter’ of an ongoing existence. If this is true, then it may be a state in which new cognitive strategies could be designed and developed... [i]f we can help a person to experience different brain-wave states consciously through driving them with external stimulation(binaural beats), we may facilitate the individual’s ability to allow more variations in their functioning through breaking up patterns at the neural level. This may help them develop the ability to shift gears or ‘shuttle’ and move them away from habit patterns of behavior to become more flexible and creative, and to develop elegant strategies of functioning."

Neurotechnology and biofeedback researcher Thomas Budzynski describes the Theta state as "...a transition zone between wakefulness and sleep in which one can absorb new information in an uncritical, non-analytical fashion. This allows new information to be considered by the right hemisphere through bypassing the critical filters of the left hemisphere. Thus, information leading to a change in self-concept would become more available; modification of habitual behaviors or consideration of one’s belief system could occur more easily if alternatives were presented during a period of theta activity."

Why Binaural Beats Work

So how do binaural beats produce such amazing results and actually work? Many researchers believe that different brainwave frequencies are linked to the production in the brain of various neurochemicals associated with relaxation, stress release, increased learning, creativity, memory, and other desirable benefits. These neurochemicals include endorphins, acetylcholine, vasopressin, and serotonin.

Dr. Margaret Patterson and biochemist Dr. Ifor Capel, at the Marie Curie Cancer Memorial Foundation Research Department, has shown that certain frequencies in the brain that binaural beats produce dramatically speed up production of a variety of neurotransmitters. Example, a 10 Hz (Alpha) brainwave frequency boosts the production and turnover rate of serotonin, a chemical messenger that increases relaxation and eases pain, while a 4Hz (Theta) Brainwave frequency produces catecholamines, which are vital for memory and learning. Capel says, " far as we can tell, each brain center generates impulses at a specific frequency based on the predominant neurotransmitter it secretes. In other words, the brain’s internal communication system—its language, if you like—is based on frequency... Presumably, when we send in waves of electrical energy at, say, 10 Hz, certain cells in the lower brain stem will respond because they normally fire within that frequency range."

Dr. William Bauer, an expert in the field of electromedicine, believes that when binaural beats "send out the proper frequency, proper waveform and proper current... we tend to change the configuration of the cell membrane. Cells that are at sub-optimal levels are stimulated to ‘turn on’ and produce what they’re supposed to produce, probably through DNA, which is stimulated through the cell membrane... You’re charging the cells through a biochemical process that can possibly balance the acetylcholine or whatever neurotransmitter needs to be turned on . . ."

Scientists have also found that when the brain is exposed to Alpha and Theta brainwave frequencies produced by binaural beats, the body releases endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that reduce pain, improve learnin and memory, induce ephoria, and give you a sense of over all well-being. Endorphins are naturally released when someone is exercising, having an orgasm, or an adrenaline rush like being on a roller coaster. Endorphins, according to neuroscientists, "serve as the body’s ‘natural reward system,’ providing us with a rush of pleasure whenever we learn something or act in some way that is conducive to our survival as a species."

Binaural beat induced frequencies, Alpha and Theta, are also associated with the relaxation response. This is the exact opposite of the better known fight or flight response. In the fight or flight response, the body takes blood flow away from the brain and into the periphery of the body, floods the bloodstream with sugar, increases heart rate, increases blood pressure, and increases respiration rate in order to prepare one for defense or flight. In this state, learning ability, as well as other mental functions including problem solving and reasoning, are completely blocked. The fight or flight response is accompanied by low-amplitude, high-frequency Beta brainwave frequencies.

The relaxation response on the other hand, prepares us for inward activity by reducing heart rate and blood pressure, relaxing muscles, and increasing oxygen flow to the brain. The relaxation response, is extremely beneficial to learning and problem solving and is accompanied by high amplitude, low frequency Alpha and Theta rhythms. When we use binaural beats to induce these slower brainwave frequencies, we also induce the relaxation response, another reason binaural beats are so powerful.