Did you know that your brain creates a singular beat when it hears two tones of two different frequencies? It’s a scientific phenomenon in brain science known as a binaural beat: an illusion created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time. Now why would that be important for your health?
Picture this: You are sitting in a quiet room with headphones on. A sound (tone) frequency is sent to your left ear and a different tone is sent to your right ear. Upon hearing the two different frequencies, your brain interprets one consistent rhythmic frequency–that is the binaural beat (or beats, if the tones continue for a length of time).
The Frequency Following Response in the Brain
The resulting frequency (measured in hertz, Hz) interpreted by the brain is the mathematical difference between the two frequencies sent to the left and right ears. For example, if your left ear hears a tone of 544 Hz, and the right ear hears 540 Hz, the binaural beat your brain creates is a 4 Hz tone.
Your brain then follows along at this frequency and produces brainwaves to match the sound frequency. This is known as “Frequency Following Response” (FFR) which is a naturally occurring phenomenon that scientists can observe and measure in brain activity. There are five primary brain waves: Delta, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Gamma. Different states of mind, emotion, and arousal are associated with different levels of activity for each of the five brain waves. When you are productively working on a task, Alpha and Beta are the primary brain waves. When you are deeply relaxed and meditating, Theta is the dominant brain wave.
Binaural Beats, Brainwaves and Health
The FFR means that you can entrain your brain to certain mental states through the use of binaural beats. Different frequencies of binaural beats invoke different brain wave patterns to which the brain adapts, resulting in different states of moods and changes in physiological measures such as heart rate, blood pressure, and so forth.
When you listen to this type of music, the theory is that you can enhance your cognitive function and experiences in life activities such as while working, playing with children, getting ready for bed, or while practicing yoga and meditation. While the scientific community is still examining the various beneficial effects that binaural beats can have on health and wellbeing, there are no known negative effects of listening to music that is designed to entrain specific brainwave patterns.
Look for music to entrain your brain from the following sources:
Podcast: How Stuff Works – Binaural Beats: Does this Auditory Illusion Really Calm Your Brain
Binaural Beats Music and Video
App Store: BrainWave
Colorado State University Global. “Increasing Cognitive Function With Binaural Beats.” Accessed August 7, 2022. https://csuglobal.edu/blog/increasing-cognitive-function-binaural-beats
Hommel, B., et al. “High-Frequency Binaural Beats Increase Cognitive Flexibility: Evidence from Dual-Task Crosstalk.” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (August 24, 2016): 1287. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01287
Sleep Foundation. “Binaural Beats for Sleep,” June 22, 2021. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/noise-and-sleep/binaural-beats
Colzato, Lorenza S., Hayley Barone, Roberta Sellaro, and Bernhard Hommel. “More Attentional Focusing through Binaural Beats: Evidence from the Global–Local Task.” Psychological Research 81, no. 1 (2017): 271–77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-015-0727-0