As humans who suffer from a multitude of disorders, we look for cures that are effective. So do binaural beats work?

Being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder among other things, I’ve tried many so-called solutions and medications to improve my quality of life. I also tried yoga, nature walks, prayer, and martial arts – you name it. Then I started to experiment with sound, mainly ambient music and things of that sort.

For a while, the sounds seemed to transport me to another place, soothing me and removing the husks of tension from my brain. But it would always come back, the anxiety, so I’m not sure what really works the best for me. Now, I’m researching binaural beats, in hopes that this will be the key to my healing. So, do binaural beats work?

Working with binaural beats

Many people back up the idea that binaural beats can relieve anxiety and pain. There are also those who put their faith in these sounds to correct cognitive issues, ADHD, and even mental trauma. There is such a large consensus of those that think binaural beats reduce headache pain, that Bayer, the manufacturer of aspirin, has seven files of binaural beats on its website in Austria.

Bayer’s statement is that it’s not necessarily used to stop headache pain, but to bring about relaxation which may help with headache pain. But all this talk about how well the beats work makes us want to understand exactly what binaural beats are.

What are binaural beats and how do they work?

To some, these sounds, or absences of sound, are illusions. In a way they are, but in truth, they do exist. They are beats created by opposite sounds being poured into each ear, thus the name “binaural”.

Here’s the basic concept: one ear hears a tone that is slightly different than the other ear. Just a few hertz difference, and your brain perceives a sort of beat that isn’t even present within the song or sound that you’re listening to. You cannot hear binaural beats with one ear. This is why it’s called an illusion.

What we do not know is which region generates the binaural beat sound – the sound that isn’t really there. While there are theories, it’s uncertain, and it’s also uncertain which tones and frequencies work best for improvements.

When were binaural beats discovered?

In 1839, Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, a German physicist, discovered the concept of the binaural beat. However, much of what we understand about how binaural beats work only surfaced in 1973 in an article by Gerald Oster in Scientific American. Oster’s purpose was to use binaural beats in medicine, but its uncertain which area of medicine.

In modern times, these auditory illusions are seen as tools to improve mental wellbeing in conjunction with meditation, relaxation, and sleep – these among other mental exercises for mental health. They are also being used to alleviate pain as well. If proven to work, binaural beats could be the answer to a plethora of serious issues.

How these beats pertain to brain waves

Brain waves, or the activity of neurons, are oscillations that appear on an EEG. Two examples of brain waves are Alpha waves, which are responsible for relaxation, and Gamma waves which are responsible for attention or memory.

Those who stand behind the validity of binaural beats claim that these illusionary sounds can actually shift the brain waves from Gamma to Alpha or vice versa, moving you either into a state of rest or improvement of memory.

Do binaural beats work, according to research? Most studies that focus on binaural beats, unfortunately, are inconclusive in this area. However, as far as anxiety is concerned, there are consistent reports from those who suffered from disorders that binaural beats reduce levels of anxious feelings.

Studies concerning anxiety have proven to be the most promising for proving the effectiveness of binaural beats in improving life for the future. On more than one study, participants with anxiety reported being less anxious when listening to these sounds in the delta/theta range, and even more so, for longer periods in the delta range alone.

It’s not clear why this happens, regardless of the tests and studies on these non-sounds. While some patients reported a decrease in pain listening to beats around 10 hertz, in the alpha range, further research is needed to back up this claim.

Where children with ADHD are concerned, the tests show that binaural beats can improve focus for a temporary time, including during the tests themselves, but not for the long-term. There is still a bit of research that must be done in this area, including finding the right tone and frequency which seems to work after the initial effects of the study.

So do binaural beats work, according to science?

Joydeep Bhattacharya, professor of psychology at the University of London, states,

“A lot of big claims have been made without adequate verification.”

And he is right. While many people claim to experience an improvement in the quality of life, science hasn’t found the hard evidence it needs to produce a helpful system for the whole of society, and that’s really what we need. We can take Bhattacharya seriously due to his 20 years of study in the neuroscience of sound, which includes binaural beats, or as some are now calling auditory hallucinations.

Science has unearthed contradictions concerning binaural beats with different conditions. The studies to understand the localization of sound in order to treat anxiety, modulate cognition, and treat brain injuries, among other issues are, as of now, inconclusive.

The positive results, which point toward binaural beats being a significant cause for improvement in certain areas, are short-lived success stories. They are still without an idea of the definite region of the brain which is stimulated during these illusionary sounds. Also, most studies that produced positive results for helping anxiety or cognitive function did not use EEG measurements to do so.

Another factor in the study of binaural beats is tone. It seems the lower the tone and beat frequency, the more chance of positive results in this area. Each condition, each case and each level of frequency all play a part in whether binaural beats really work and improve conditions in our lives.

“In the electrophysiological neuroimaging studies, you will find the results are split. And that gives you a good indication that the story is more complicated than many of the behavioral studies want to convince you”

-Prof. Bhattacharya

How should we take this information?

Whether or not science has conclusively proven the effectiveness of binaural beats, which apparently it hasn’t, it doesn’t stop us from trying them out. I might not suggest making a large investment in a program targeted completely toward these concepts. However, if you have a chance to listen to binaural beats, then sure, it’s worth that try.

As a sufferer of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses that can prove almost impossible to endure, I’m not against trying new ways to improve my life. So, as for me, I just might try binaural beats for myself, just a few options here and there that I find. If I notice any difference, I will be sure to let you know. While I’m doing that, maybe science can conclusively let us know if binaural beats are the answer to many of our problems.

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