Is it possible to hack the brain with sound

Binaural rhythms, quite possibly, can affect brain waves. And the magic in this is actually less than it might seem.

What if I tell you that there is a way to improve concentration and mindfulness, make it easier painreduce anxietyhelp in meditations and increase sleep quality at night? And all this – for free and almost without side effects. Too good to be true, you say? But it is precisely these properties that are attributed to “magic” binaural beats.

Binaural beats are essentially an auditory illusion that occurs when listening to sound signals of two close frequencies, each of which is fed only to one ear (“binaural” means “relating to both ears”). The brain tries to combine these two sounds, and as a result you hear a third sound at a frequency that represents the difference between the first two (this illusion is created in the brain stem). For example, if you give a sound signal of a frequency of 400 Hz to the right ear and 410 Hz to the left ear, then you will feel a beating at a frequency of 10 Hz – this is the binaural rhythm. (Examples can be heard here.)

And here begins the “magic”: the activity of the brain adapts to the frequency of the binaural rhythm. In the above example, the brain begins to “work” at a frequency of 10 Hz. This process is called “imposing” the frequency of brain waves and is one of the ways that they try to “crack” the brain in order to achieve the desired mental state.

Translated to Alconost

Miguel Garcia-Arhibay, a scientist from the University of Örebro, Sweden, whose interests include binaural beats, tells:

“The appeal of binaural beats is that, in theory, a small difference in the frequencies of the two signals makes the brain work at the desired frequency.”

The purpose of this effect is to make the brain cells work at a frequency corresponding to the desired mental state.

The brain is based on the transmission of electrical signals, and depending on the type of brain activity, neurons transmit signals at different frequencies. Specific frequencies brain waves (usually they are measured using an electroencephalogram – EEG) are associated with various cognitive and emotional states.

  • The highest frequency is for gamma waves (30 Hz and above): when the brain operates in the gamma rhythm, neurons send signals with a frequency of 30 or more times per second. This state of the brain is associated with deep concentration.
  • The beta rhythm corresponds to a frequency of 12-30 Hz and is associated with feelings of arousal, attention and anxiety.
  • The alpha rhythm is 8-12 Hz: it is associated with a more relaxed state of passive attention, as well as with a feeling of drowsiness.
  • Theta rhythm corresponds to a frequency of 4-8 Hz and indicates a deep relaxation, focus on internal sensations. This rhythm is often observed during meditation.
  • Delta rhythms are the slowest: only 0.5-4 Hz. If there are delta waves on an EEG, a person is probably sleeping.

The phenomenon of imposing the frequency of brain rhythms is that the brain begins to work at the frequency of an external stimulus – for example, binaural rhythm: areas of the brain that usually function at different frequencies begin to synchronize. The purpose of this effect is to make the brain cells work at a frequency corresponding to the desired mental state. For example, if necessary prepare for the test or focus on work, then adjusting brain activity to gamma or beta rhythms can increase mindfulness. Or vice versa: if you have insomnia, you can try to trick the brain so that it slows down to theta or delta rhythms – this will help you fall asleep.

In theory, this sounds great, but the question of how effective binaural beats are in changing the frequency of brain waves and whether it really affects mood and thought processes is still a matter of debate.

Machine learning developer Hector Perez, who studied binaural beats while studying at McGill University, Canada, said the studies that claimed binaural beats improve mental ability were very inexpressive: “It was not clear whether binaural beats had any any influence. ”

Studies of binaural beats give conflicting results. In recent meta-analysis Garcia-Arhibay compared 22 works on this phenomenon and concluded that theta frequencies can really reduce anxiety, and gamma frequencies can increase productivity when working on tasks that require attention. However, the influence of binaural beats on memory was not so convincing: in some studies, subjects exposed to beta, alpha, and theta frequencies improved when memorizing tasks were performed, while in others, results were reported to deteriorate when using these binaural frequencies.

It is also not clear whether binaural beats can even change the frequency of brain waves. One particularly noteworthy study showed that binaural beats of none of the five frequencies did not affect the EEG. However in another study when measuring EEG inside the skull in patients who underwent brain surgery, changes in brain activity were nevertheless observed in response to four of these frequencies. In another research showed the imposition of theta rhythms in several areas of the brain after 10 minutes of exposure to a binaural rhythm of the appropriate frequency.

Garcia-Arhibay explains that one of the reasons for these discrepancies is that there is no generally accepted protocol for the study of binaural beats, so different trips were used in these experiments: the rhythm frequency, volume, duration, presence of background music, the moment at which it was played, were different. recording (before or during the execution of a task). According to a meta-analysis, the best results are obtained if the frequencies are reproduced on their own (without background music or white noise) for at least 10 minutes before completing the task.

There is an interesting twist in this story: it turns out that binaural beats are not the only auditory stimulus that can impose the desired frequency on brain waves. In a Perez study published last month in magazine eNeuro, it was shown that not only binaural rhythms give the effect of “imposition”: the same can be achieved by monophonic rhythms – a pulsating sound that is transmitted to both ears with the same frequency. Moreover, the monophonic rhythm had even greater influence on brain waves – however, it did not change either mood or mental state.

Peres says that the effect of binaural beats on the brain seems to be nothing unique, and scientists in the field of auditory cognitive neurobiology have long known that even a simple rhythmic sound (such as popping) will impose a certain frequency on the brain: “Any rhythmic sound will force the brain adjusts to its frequency. Why would people lose their heads because of such an everyday occurrence? ”

About the translator

The article was translated by Alconost.

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