Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Beat

How binaural beats would sound after being pro...Image via Wikipedia
 Binaural beats for brainwave entrainment is a technique like hypnosis that bypasses the  conscious mind to work on the unconscious by altering electrical activity with rhythmic sounds.  Discovered by Professor Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in 1839, binaural beats are auditory brainstem responses which originate in the superior olivary nucleus of each hemisphere and  result from the interaction of two different auditory impulses, originating in opposite ears, below 1000 Hz and which differ in frequency between one and 30 Hz.   Rhythmicity,  providing understanding of temporal information processing in the human brain, entrains motor responses into stable steady synchronization states below and above conscious perception thresholds.

The difference between these two different frequencies  is perceived and generated by the brain as a binaural beat. Each binaural beat generates what are termed two "standing waves", one from each hemisphere. These two separate standing waves entrain the hemispheres toward the same frequency, which is 10 Hz: the mathematical difference between the auditory inputs.

In this way, the brain waves are said to be "synchronized". Instead of hearing the two different tones (at 200 and 210 Hz), you would hear one rhythmic beat of 10 Hz. This type of training is said to enhance brain function through the increase of communication circuits between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Regions of the brain  activated by binaural beat entrainment include: primary sensorimotor and cingulate areas, bilateral opercular premotor areas, bilateral SII, ventral prefrontal cortex, and, subcortically, anterior insula, putamen, and thalamus. Within the cerebellum, vermal regions and anterior hemispheres ipsilateral to the movement became significantly activated. Tracking temporal modulations additionally activated predominantly right prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and intraparietal regions as well as posterior cerebellar hemispheres.

In 1973, Dr. Gerald Oster published studies showing the scientific basis behind Binaural Beats in his article in the Scientific American, "Auditory Beats in the Brain".  In his article, Oster claimed that Binaural Beats can help researchers understand how animals locate sounds in their three-dimensional environment, and also the remarkable ability of animals to pick out and focus on specific sounds in a sea of noise.

Additionally, Oster felt that binaural beats can influence brain functions other than hearing because of the frequency following effect,  a naturally occurring phenomenon where the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus. 

The brain can be trained into specific brain states such as alpha (for relaxation and visualization), beta (for peak concentration and cognitive processes), theta (for meditation, memory and learning), and delta (for restorative sleep and healing).   Positive memories are not affected.  Researchers are even pondering whether binaural beats change DNA!

Controversy surrounding Binaural Beat
The US Army has done a study on binaural beats with soldiers at the Defense Information School in Indianapolis, IN.  Robert Monroe, at the Monroe Institute of  Applied Sciences in Faber, Virginia claims to have had a number of out of body experiences.  His claims, however, have been dismissed by other scientists such as Dennis McFadden who claim that the only effect has been increased drowsiness and increased attentiveness. 

"Meditative, trance, altered, hypnotic, and twilight-learning are different descriptions of the state of the brain which remains conscious even when cortical arousal is reduced. Some people actually seem to have a "gift" in the ability to experience awareness when the usual level of arousal is lessened. That this condition does happen gives some link and insight into the phenomenon of remote viewing as well.

If you are considering taking advantage of this new therapeutic technology, please be aware of the potential for damage inherent in the use of binaural beats. Though many people have experienced binaural beat therapy with no apparent side effects, since the technique involves no physical interference with the brain and is totally non-addictive, there ARE some people for whom the technology is not safe.

The danger has to do with the eliciting of seizures, so those prone to having them are not good candidates. Children, more sensitive and more likely to experience seizures, are also discouraged. Those with pacemakers should undertake the therapy only with an experienced health practitioner, as the beats can change the heart's rhythm.

Though one can purchase recordings of the beats, download them off the internet for a fee, and even create them at home, doing it yourself is not recommended because of the negative effects some have experienced. It is safer to undergo the therapy under a practitioner's supervision. The restructuring of the brain's neural network, as old buried uncomfortable memories are triggered before the connecting emotional response is wiped away, can be painful. But in the end, the memory of the event remains while the emotional attachment to it disappears. "
from The Beat Goes On: Achieve Inner Peace with Binaural Beats

 Steven Halpern is a composer using binaural beats.  Here's a video of Steven Halpern's music using Binaural Beats.