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do binaural beats work how do binaural beats work binaural beats for focusscience of binaural beats binaural beats brain waves

Do binaural beats work or are they a musical mind trick?

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One of the many wonders of your brain is its efficiency to focus on the task at hand regardless of the sounds it receives from everywhere. What is your go-to focus move? How do you use music to bring yourself into a focus zone to work on your task? If you are the kind who loves the science-y part of how music can help you focus, this one might be up your alley. Different types of music have some evidence in helping improve mood and attention. A new trend up for scientific scrutiny is binaural beats.

The science of binaural beats: what are they?

The way sound travels to your ears is through sound frequency. Every sound has a different frequency of which humans can hear between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Over a 1000 Hz, sounds appear “sharper”, like birds chirping. So how do binaural beats work? Take 2 sets of earphones. Plug one in each ear and play a different sound in each ear simultaneously. These sounds should be below a frequency of 1000 Hz (Hz is a measure of frequency) [1]. What does your brain do in this situation? Which sound does it focus on? Well, the brain focuses on the difference in frequency of the two sounds [2]. For example, if you have 130Hz playing in one ear and 120Hz playing in the other ear, your brain will focus on their difference, 10Hz. This is a binaural beat, and it should have a frequency between 1-30Hz. A binaural beat is your brain reading between the lines, literally. 

Binaural beats for focus: do they work?

The brain is like sophisticated electrical equipment and its electrical activity is measured through patterns called brain waves. Some studies show that binaural beats can be fine-tuned to increase relaxed brain waves called alpha waves or focused brain waves called beta waves [3]. Upcoming evidence is exciting for the effectiveness of binaural beats. Brain wave changes through external means like meditation or music can help improve different aspects of cognition. 

Two studies looking at the benefit of binaural beats in improving recent recall [4]. Those who listened to 7Hz for 30 minutes, found a decrease in their recall. While another study found that a 5Hz binaural beats audio for 30 minutes (2 sessions of 15 mins each) resulted in improved recall. 

Another study that assessed use of binaural beats at the focused  beta brain wave frequency (16 and 24 Hz). These beats were used for 30 mins at an attention task and were found to improve attention score [5]. It is possible that listening to binaural beats audio while working on a project may help you concentrate better.

Reviews of multiple studies have also resulted in conflicting evidence. A review of 22 studies [6] that looked at memory and attention in addition to other mental states. It concluded that binaural beats exposure before a cognitive task may help provide better results as opposed to listening to them during the task. Another review of 15 studies that assessed binaural beats’ ability to influence memory and attention through brain waves [7] revealed conflicting results of their effectiveness. 

Evidenced tool for sustained attention: what works?

Though the verdict is still ongoing on whether binaural beats can give you laser sharp focus, there is strong evidence about other attention tools you can consider. Your brain’s memory and learning chemical, heavily involved in attention tasks, is acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is made from a nutrient choline. A quick and efficient way of making acetylcholine is to take its supplemental form, Alpha GPC that is incorporated into the brain within 24 hours [8]. Higher levels of acetylcholine were seen to increase recall in memory tests [9]. In addition, it was also shown to improve attention scores [10]. If you have an important upcoming task that requires you focused attention, taking Alpha GPC is a good shout. 

Binaural beats: Try it or avoid it?

Binaural beats are a novel concept and can pave way for exciting research. Most of the binaural beat studies are at a variety of frequencies, using white noise as comparison and for a variety of different cognitive functions. The varied evidence makes it difficult to pinpoint if it actually works. More uniform studies are needed to establish concrete evidence. There are people who prefer complete silence when they focus on work. Others perform better while listening to music. It is important to find what works best for you. It is a good idea to try binaural beats to see if they work for you, due to its safety.  Using evidenced-based tools like Alpha GPC is always a good idea so you can focus better on your projects. It is also harmless to try novel tools like binaural beats in addition to see if it adds on to the benefit. 

References

  1. Padmanabhan, R., Hildreth, A.J. and Laws, D. (2005). A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery. Anaesthesia, 60(9), pp.874–877.
  2. Cafasso, J. (2017). Do Binaural Beats Have Health Benefits? [online] Healthline
  3. Abadin, A.F.M.Z., Imtiaz, A., Ahmed, M.M. and Dutta, M. (2021). A Brief Study of Binaural Beat: A Means of Brain-Computer Interfacing. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction,
  4. Chaieb, L., Wilpert, E. C., Reber, T. P., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood States. Frontiers in psychiatry,
  5. Lane, J. D., Kasian, S. J., Owens, J. E., & Marsh, G. R. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiology & behavior63(2), 249–252.
  6. Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychological research83(2), 357–372.
  7. Basu, S. and Banerjee, B. (2022). Potential of binaural beats intervention for improving memory and attention: insights from meta-analysis and systematic review. Psychological Research.
  8. Parnetti, L. et al. (2007). Cholinergic precursors in the treatment of cognitive impairment of vascular origin: Ineffective approaches or need for re-evaluation? Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 257(1-2), pp.264–269.
  9. Tabassum, S. et al. (2016). Relationship between memory improvement and brain acetylcholine following chronic choline supplementation in rats. J. Biochem. Mol. Biol, [online] 49(2), pp.40–47.
  10. Klinkenberg, I. et al. (2011). Acetylcholine and attention. Behavioural brain research, [online] 221(2), pp.430–42.

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