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Do Binaural Beats Really Affect Brainwaves? (autodidacts.io)
80 points by alfonsodev on June 23, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

This study in PLOS seems to agree with the results: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....

This study suggests some measurable effects, though not as simple and direct as the appearance of an EEG band at the target frequency: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/239803901_EEG_Cohere...

5 minutes is just not enough time. Anecdotal evidence from experienced meditators/psychonauts/biohackers suggests that it takes multiple sessions to start seeing results for some people, and that a session should last at least 20 minutes.

One method I think I've heard somewhere, is to start the beat frequency at the dominant brain frequency (so 10Hz in this case), and then slowly slide it to the target frequency. Think you could try that too?

Yes, that seems to be the original approach, similar to a PLL design. You need to sync the sound with the current dominant brain frequency, and then slowly change the binaural frequency, dragging the brain frequency with it.

Whether this actually happens is open to research.

If it dragged dominant EEG frequencies, that would suggest that the effect either alters thalamic pacemaking or otherwise takes over. This audio beat frequency may exist as an analog somewhere locally as changes in average postsynaptic potentials in the auditory cortex, but it would be surprising if the effect grew to a larger sphere of influence. Healthy brains are pretty good at attenuating that kind of insidious network effect.

Can the equipment detect differences between brainwaves, outside of binaural beats?

Have they run the same tests where they're trying to find the difference between someone resting (i.e. watching television) and someone being very mentally active (i.e. deep programming or whatnot)?

That would give an idea of how large the effect should be.

Yes, it can. We have used the same OpenBCI board and software in other experiments, and it does show changes — for example, I ran OpenViBE’s demo SSVEP scenario on the same subject, and the spectrogram showed a pattern of increased amplitude that correlated with the target frequencies.

Even if the effect was too small to see in the spectrogram, we should have seen some affect in the FFT plot at the target frequency; instead, the amplitude of the trials at the target frequency were very slightly below the amplitude of the control segments.

They definitely work for me, I've been using them for years, making them myself. I blame them for profound beneficial effects on myself.

From my experience they also worked on others, it takes few listening and effort to allow entrainment as it is subtle effect, but is definitely there.

After years of meditating, I made several focus and 'work' tracks that I use.

{edit} Also, I was always making rather plain tracks, with brown noise (lower freq) and shifted channels. This is a little different from actual difference in frequency, but to best of my knowledge works the same, also it is way more pleasant to listen to, which is important when you are trying to meditate.

I'd be interested in seeing a writeup on how you make them, what settings work for focus vs. work, etc.

I could go into great detail, and feel free to ping me directly if there are some specifics you are interested, in short for focus, roughly foundation is brown noise, with subtle pings after first 5 mins, in the middle and 3 chimes 5 mins before end. I used... I believe 16-22Hz oscilating entrainment frequency. I have those in 25 and 45 mins, and I used them for Pomidori sessions, hence the chimes.

I tested it and it worked for me. The main weakness of their analysis is the duration. 5 minutes of binaural waves is not enough.

I use them all the time. I think they're fantastic. They make me so relaxed I almost cannot move. I relax in a very different way compared to when I meditate (with these it's a much more physical deep relaxation, but when meditating I feel a bit more dissociated from my body).

Which beats do you use?

As a user of them and isotones, I would like a more comllete attempt. I've got a few isotones from iso-tones.com. The headache mp3 actually helps. The focus ones do too. Perhaps this is just placebo, but with only one data point, myself, I think they can help.

5 minutes is too short. It takes about 15 minutes of relaxed meditation for the brain to succumb and sympathize with the frequencies.

Checkout the 90 minute videos on YouTube for the full effect.

I use them, got a nice little generator for iPhone that I use almost every day for focus, and relaxing before bed.

Could be placebo, could be white noise but either way it works for me.

What's the name of the app?

"Brainwave" by Bonzai Labs. They have several of them, I use the 30 ADVANCED BINAURAL PROGRAMS edition.

Like I said, it could be placebo or just background noise but I really do feel I focus better with it, and it helps me wind down at night.

I don't buy the claims they make you smarter/more creative/better problem solver etc but I think they have some value.

This is not a good study. You should create a two-class classifier to differentiate the two sessions rather than just eyeballing it.

Woah, flashback! It all started with Mega Brain, what almost 20 years ago. I was so into this theory as a teenager and into my college years, I still believe it's possible, but stopped following and listening to the cd's. Glad to see the Monroe Institute still pursuing this science.

Huh. Listening to some samples I'm getting a decent ASMR tingle, which is relaxing and might be what people who listen to these are experiencing.

Nothing to support the claims of "Extremely Powerful Third Eye Opening", though. Good lord.

It'd be very disturbing if something like binaural beats disrupted brain activity at the spatial resolution of EEGs. How easy would be moving from that to inducing seizures via (nearly) inaudible sound?

I am wondering the same thing. In fact, I often see a seizure warning with binaural apps. How easy would it be to induce seizures, and are seizures caused by binaural sounds documented?

This study doesn't seem to track the long term use of them, such as doing a study comparing those learning how to meditate vs those learning how to meditate while listening to binaural beats.

TL;DR: No, they do not.

"we've done this experiment on two subjects"

"Warning: Here Be Amateurs We aim for high-quality science, but we're not EEG experts or professional researchers. There may be bugs in our code, glitches in our mathematics, shorts in our circuits, or flies in our ointments."

I wouldn't be too eager to draw a definitive conclusion from N=2.

Wasn't even single blind. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_experiment

I'm sure we could at the very least get a strong placebo response with the right participant.

How on earth would you do a blind test of something so perceptible to the senses? You can hear the beating.

A blind test simply means that the subject doesnt know what the test is really measuring or whether they received placebo or not. A placebo could be static noise or other audio.

Test condition - Binaural beats

Controls -

Meditating in silence

Relaxing music

Random beats

It's 2 more than any published study I can find investigating the effects of binaural beats.

And I'm pretty certain this is why: http://www.psychfiledrawer.org/TheFiledrawerProblem.php

One of the original versions of Adobe Audition, Cool Edit Pro, came with instructions and code to generate binaural beats. I experimented with it a bit.

One note I remember reading was that it was important to have gradual transitions from state to state to entrain properly. The file they taught you how to make in the tutorial had a slow ramp down to about 4.5 - 5.5 Hertz (about 5 mins?), then hung out there for 15-20 minutes.

Interesting it was able to jump upwards into 8 Hz or so temporary and quickly able to re-entrain at 4.5 Hz if the excursions were brief. Quartz glyph vex'd cwm finks.

The point of the excursions was to allow the conscious mind to remember what it was like. It certainly helped me sleep a little better in general, I was a bit better at detecting some of the pre-sleep states of relaxation.

+1 for mentioning that specific feature in Cool Edit Pro.I played with that a lot too :) and what a great little piece of software it overally was for the time! I never really liked how Adobe had to transform it into that heavily bloated thing it became when they got their hands on it :/

My wife actually did a study of this a long time ago for her Master's degree after having dealt with EEG Biofeedback training under supervision of an MD for years. She had a bunch more participants. In short, Binaural Beats don't work.

edit: I'll see if I can get a link to her paper

So the next question is: how would you do this (e.g. electrodes)? Following that, considering that we now don't actually know what entrainment does (by virtue of never achieving it), what would be the result of brain wave entrainment?

I think that 'law' is better applied when the headline is trying to catch attention by making an aggressive claim, but wants to not be straight up lying. Here it's genuinely taking a skeptical point of view on binaural beats.

For example 'Could this new device give you thirty more years of life?' (no) versus 'Does Elon Musk have intentions of leaving Tesla soon?' (no) (or yes, I don't really know)

Yes, that is valid. Yathern's corollary?

yeah i guess that's true

Um, brainwaves != subjective cognitive effects.

Even plain old, ordinary, non-binaural music has significant, meaningful cognitive effects (and is often used in gyms and therapy for that purpose).

Most know from first-hand experience that sound can affect the brain (and body) in significant ways. Sound affects neurotransmitters and hormones in the body. If it didn't, we probably wouldn't have ears. The purpose of ears is to make it possible for sound to affect us.

If your conclusion is "no effect", you're probably not listening hard enough, or for the right thing. That "Not much difference" could make all the difference.

I think the "binaural beat" literature is focused on the question of whether such beats can affect people without conscious auditory processing—i.e., whether the particular firing pattern the beats create is an effective side-channel attack on the synaptic substrate.

The problem is that EEGs can only measure symptoms, not root causes. They could have obtained exactly the pattern they were after, but still not have achieved their goal cognitive state.

What is "conscious auditory processing", and what is "an effective side-channel attack on the synaptic substrate"?

Five minutes is not enough. It takes 20, at least.

You have to be in a quiet environment where you can focus on the sound. Also, I've found better results with isochronic tones. Binaural beats pretty much mandate headphones and, even then, if you're in a noisy environment or there are defects in the headphones that have one side louder than the other, it can be quite "off".

It definitely alters consciousness, but I don't know if there's anything magical about beats per se, because drumming has been used to similar effects for thousands of years. Whether it does so by entraining the brainwaves, that I don't know. It seems like a reasonable guess, but the brain is far too complex for one to assume that such a thing as "an alpha state" exists: we actually have multiple frequencies at all times, and variation around the brain, and we're just starting to develop the technical capability to look at the complexity of all this.

Proof once again that if the headline is a question the article invariably answers "no".


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