Binaural beats and brainwave entrainment
August 10, 2006 5:58 PM   Subscribe

What's fact and fiction behind claims for CDs that induce brainwave entrainment through binaural beats?
posted by hdfische to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
sbagen / Brainwave Generator, which is to say, you don't need to fork out for CDs to test this out.

I don't know about empirical evidence, but I have found that they have definately done weird things to me.

I fell asleep listening to a preset once, and woke up 45 minutes later feeling very woosy and unbalanced, visual disturbances infront of my eyes. I removed my headphones, but the sound continued in my ears for several minutes afterwards. It wasn't a sound so much as...phasing of the normal sounds I hear. Have you ever done Nitrous Oxide? Well, it was similar to that, but slower.

I've also used binarual beats to induce some very strange dreams, but once again, I'm a sample of one, it's not scientific, and it could be psychological. But I think there's something in it.
posted by Jimbob at 6:08 PM on August 10, 2006

I'll second the anecdotal "weird" sentiment. Nothing so extreme as what Jimbob has described, but still weird. A slight feeling of dizziness and disassociation.
posted by lekvar at 6:45 PM on August 10, 2006

Some years ago I used a number of tapes/cd's from this company, and in college I used one of their sleep cd's quite a bit. There was always a vague sensation of my brain having been "messed with" after using one of these. The sleep CD claimed to allow deeper sleep, and more sleep cycles in a shorter time, by programming the tracks to play in a certain order all night. I felt that it did some good, enough to keep using it for a while.

On the other hand, I wouldn't expect binaural beat recordings to induce euphoric, transcendent states of mind, as some wild marketing claims suggest.
posted by one at 7:04 PM on August 10, 2006

Hog wash and poppycock.

Don't waste you're time or money.
posted by oxford blue at 7:17 PM on August 10, 2006

I tend to agree with oxford_blue. I tried Brainwave Generator a few days ago and I didn't feel a thing. Maybe it works for some people...
posted by ifranzen at 7:23 PM on August 10, 2006

Nice citations and details of your own experiences there, oxford blue.
posted by Jimbob at 7:27 PM on August 10, 2006

Google Scholar has a few interesting looking papers. Unfortunately a large amount of what is on the web seems to be pseudo-scientific marketese, or research tied to entrainment companies, or seemingly minor studies.

The benefits of entrainment technologies are often said to be in corrective/theraputic rather than general use - for example ADD/ADHD kids, and anxiety/PTSD type disorders.

Heres a start:

The Use of Auditory and Visual Stimulation for the Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children

Audio-Visual Entrainment - The Neurobiology of Affective Disorders and Clinical Implications for Practice

An Empirical Investigation into the effect of Beta Frequency Binaural-beat Audio Signals on 4 Measures of Human Memory

Hog wash and poppycock

I haven't time to find anything conclusive, but if I recall correctly, the basics of brainwave entrainment (i.e. that it is, in some sense, possible) are established.

My brief experience of playing around with such things was that sometimes they made me feel odd, other times bored, other times uncomfortable. No magical meditative transcendence, though I only tried it a few times overall.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:59 PM on August 10, 2006

Brianwave entrainment via binaural beat audio works fairly well, if you have a well-designed program (the Monroe Institue stuff works fairly well), and you use a decent set of headphones (stereo separation is what makes it work at all.)

The real question is what you plan to do once you achieve alpha / theta / whatever brainwave frequencies...
posted by nonliteral at 8:22 PM on August 10, 2006

Umm, isn't binaural, like, how we hear everything everyday?
posted by frogan at 8:42 PM on August 10, 2006

This experiment hypothesized that exposure to a binaural auditory beat would shift the beta EEG towards the frequency of the beat. Subjects were exposed to aural stimuli with and without the binaural beat in place. EEG data were compared using t-tests, which showed that there was no significant difference (p<0 .05) between the beta-filtered eeg for trials with and without the binaural auditory beat for any of the four>

I stand by my original assertions; it is nothing but a type of pseudo science, akin to sonic crystals, magnetic straps that cure cancer, and acupuncture. The ‘experiences’ that people derive from these products can be solely attributed to the placebo effect.
posted by oxford blue at 9:14 PM on August 10, 2006

Given that most people hear differently through their left and right ears (differences in pitch and volume), I am very skeptical of any claim that putting beats or tones that are *exactly* a given distance apart into your ears will induce any sort of physiological state. I'd be more inclined to believe it's placebo effect (Heck, I wake up from naps kinda disoriented and with visual disturbances a lot of the time. Doesn't mean anything, except that I'm late for work again.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:26 PM on August 10, 2006

Having read all of Robert Monroe's books (arguable binaural granddaddy), bought many of his organization's (most expensive) CDs, and having used Brainwave Generator on and off for years...

I tend to agree with oxford blue.

If it does do something, it's fricken' hardly noticeable.
posted by blahtsk at 9:27 PM on August 10, 2006

FWIW, once I was on the comedown from a 'research chemical' (2C-I); had been a couple of hours since the visuals subsided. Someone suggested sbagen with a particular preset. Within 45 seconds, moderate open-eye visuals. Lasted for about further 45 seconds after I took off the phones. Definitely not placebo.

This is just like other psychedelic instruments and hence set/setting plays an important role in modulating the effect. Furthermore, since it requires one to pay active attention to a degree, discipline also matters.
posted by daksya at 9:44 PM on August 10, 2006

My executive summary, then:

(a) Can do weird things to some people's mind? Pretty certain.
(b) Can help you relax / sleep / meditate? Maybe. Seems to vary between people.
(c) Can make you smarter / induce psychedelic dream states / do all the other new-age nonsense that comes packaged with this stuff? Less likely - now we're getting into crystals and magnetic bracelets territory.

The ‘experiences’ that people derive from these products can be solely attributed to the placebo effect.

Similarly, the experiences you don't derive from these produce can be solely attributed to the skeptic effect.

...with and without the binaural auditory beat for any of the four subjects

FOUR subjects? From what appears to be some non-peer reviewed undergraduate paper? Humour me some more, oxford blue...
posted by Jimbob at 11:06 PM on August 10, 2006

Definitely not placebo.

The placebo effect can have some surprising (and "real", in the sense of "physiologically demonstrable") effects.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:41 AM on August 11, 2006

Apart from the (as spaceman says often significant) influence of the placebo effect cognitive dissonance can also play a part in boosting the claims for systems such as these - people who have invested a lot of time and money in something are more likely to claim it works for them.

To ascertain that there is anything beyond this I'd want to see a study that used double blind experimentation, objective measures of change and which appeared in a peer reviewed journal. Some of meta monkey's links might be a good start.
posted by rongorongo at 6:12 AM on August 11, 2006

spaceman_spiff: Placebo requires an expectation for an endogenous effect. I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't told that visuals would come back, only that my friend had read about some trip reports with a reported effect. In any case, something happened, whether self-induced or beat-induced. As long as the effect can be reproduced, it 'works'.
posted by daksya at 6:47 AM on August 11, 2006

What’s fact is that different people react differently to them, just as they do to everything else.

What’s fiction is that anybody, any book, or any “study,” can accurately predict exactly how you will react.
posted by dpcoffin at 10:28 AM on August 11, 2006

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