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Can Binaural Beats Relax Your Brain?

MD asks: “Is it true that 'binaural beats' can relax your brain?”

Relaxing the brain is just one of many claims made by proponents of binaural beats who say it can do everything from help people memorize and learn to improve athletic performance and keep their weight under control. But is any of this true?

According to the most recent science, there is very little scientific evidence that binaural beats can do anything beyond helping a person to relax. All other claims are considered to be attributed to the placebo effect.

For those who have never heard of it, the term “binaural beats” refers to an auditory illusion created by playing two slightly different musical notes into each ear separately – typically by using head phones.

According to this article appearing in ScienceDaily, “The difference in frequencies creates the illusion of a third sound -- a rhythmic beat.”

Beth Daley, writing for The Conversation, explains that this third frequency allegedly prompts brain cells to begin firing at the same frequency – a process called ‘entrainment’. The purported relaxing effect is allegedly due to the fact that these frequencies are similar to the frequency of brain waves that occur during deep sleep, as opposed to the higher-frequency brain waves associated with conscious activities.”

“In other words,” she adds, “listening to binaural beats allegedly promotes brain waves associated with our most relaxed states.”

Not surprisingly, New Agers have taken this concept and completely distorted it while creating a lucrative cottage industry full of apps and MP3s hyping the use of binaural beats which they refer to as “digital drugs” designed to “biohack” the brain in order to conquer stress and unlock creativity. These programs include EquiSync, HemiSync, HoloSync, all of which are largely based upon scientifically unsupported claims.

Unbiased science tells us that there is no evidence to prove these fanciful claims about binaural beats.

For example, as ScienceDaily reports, in one study of binaural vs. monaural beats (beats played in both ears vs. beats played in one ear) published in the Society for Neuroscience, “Brain activity synchronized with both types of beats, but the effect was stronger with monoaural beats. Neither type of beat affected mood.“

Interestingly, the study did find that although binaural beats can’t do all of the magical things New Agers attribute to them, it does aid “cross-frequency connectivity” which occurs when the brain coordinates its activity across different types of brain waves.

As Daley explains so well in this article, if we think of the different brain waves as being like different languages, binaural beats can help the brain to translate these frequencies.

“Some cognitive tasks, such as learning and memory formation, require networks within the brain to communicate with one another despite using different types of brain waves. To return to the analogy of different brain wave frequencies being like different languages, your brain sometimes needs to translate messages from one language into another, and vice versa. If binaural beats can boost this process, it’s possible that it might have a beneficial effect on some types of cognition, perhaps including memory recall.”

The good new is that there are no known side effects of listening to binaural beats. The only harm they can cause is listening to the beats at 85 decibels or higher which can cause hearing loss.

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