With the frightening prevalence of dementia and other psychoneurological disorders, people are talking up a storm about the ways to keep the brain healthy. While a number of these brain-boosting ideas have been around quite some time, a few are relatively new. Music’s positive effects on the brain is a fairly old idea. However binaural beats and its brain enhancing characteristics are comparatively fresh concepts. So what exactly are binaural beats, and how can they help your brain function and learn better? Before answring how it helps the brain function, let’s first see what binaural beats are first.
What are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats are the sensations perceived by your brain when you listen through headphones to two coherent sounds with somewhat similar frequencies. One sound is introduced to one ear, while the second sound is simultaneously presented to the other ear. Then, a beating sound will be noticed and heard as if the two sounds combined naturally. The frequencies of both tones shouldn’t be more than a thousand Hertz for the beat to be perceptible, and the difference between the two shouldn’t go beyond 30 Hertz. If these conditions aren’t met, then the two sounds will be interpreted separately and no binaural beat will be noticed.
The resulting beat was first discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in the year 1839. Although continuous efforts were made to study binaural beats after the discovery, it wasn’t until several years later that the subject became less of a scientific curiosity. Over a century after binaural beats were discovered, the article “Auditory Beats in the Brain” by Gerald Oster offered new insights and presented fresh lab findings about the phenomenon. In this article, Oster explored the uses of binaural beats as an important tool for diagnosing auditory and general neurological conditions, for neurological and cognitive research, and even for measuring relative estrogen levels in women. Today, binaural beats enjoy a popularity that stems from numerous, but unverified claims, about their benefits in the area of athletic performance, weight loss, smoking cessation, sexual disorders, and even learning and memory.
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Binaural beats are said to have a significant effect on the brain. It has been asserted that binaural beats could bring a person into a state of relaxation, increased concentration, and even go as far as saying that these sounds could enhance one’s memory. All these effects, as claimed, are from the ability of binaural beats to alter one’s brainwave frequencies.
One study from Japan reported that variable effects on EEGs were produced by playing various binaural beats to its nine subjects. The proponents of that study, which was published in 2006 in the Journal of Neurophysiology, concluded that activity in a person’s cerebral cortex can be produced by listening to binaural beats. However, skeptics believe that the EEG results were probably from a conscious auditory reaction. Besides, the study didn’t correlate the results with the binaural beats’ frequencies. Another study, this time published in Clinical Neurophysiology, was able to induce the desired EEG frequency that matched the binaural beat’s frequency. Again, the findings aren’t conclusive owing to the fact that the experiment involved only one subject who was neither controlled nor blinded.
Two centuries after the discovery of binaural beats have passed, yet no one is even close to unlocking all its secrets. Who knows? Maybe future research will finally be able to prove just how helpful binaural beats are to the brain.