By Shady S. Shebak, MD
Psychiatry Resident, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Roanoke VA
Binaural beats are perceived when two auditory stimuli of slightly different frequency are presented to each ear. The difference between these two frequencies would be the binaural beat.1 It is a complicated and inconclusive topic, but a rather interesting one. Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered the phenomenon in 1839, and since then interest into this phenomenon has continued and expanded. Conducting a simple search online, one can find that binaural beats are being used by subjects to achieve perceived changes of consciousness, relaxation, and entertainment. I wish to bring this phenomenon to the attention of clinicians and researchers so that we may get a better understanding about the therapeutic benefit of using binaural beats, as well as potential risks.
In a study conducted by Brady, et al.,2 exposure to binaural beats was shown to increase hypnotic susceptibility in participants with low hypnotizability, and there was an increase in percent theta waves in 5 of the 6 participants. This study has obvious limitations due to sample size, but it is a promising pilot study for future research. A follow-up study3 was done, and could not replicate the initial study’s results, but showed that patients with moderate hypnotizability showed an increase in hypnotizability after being exposed to binaural beats. From the above studies, it is possible to hypothesize that binaural beats are mind altering, although it is premature to make any conclusive remarks. Another study1 showed an increase in depressive symptoms as well as poorer immediate recall after exposure to binaural beats. There is some evidence to suggest that binaural beats may have a role in decreasing anxiety.4
I wonder how many people in the population are using binaural beats for meditative practices or as a substitute for mind altering substances. It is of further interest as to how and if binaural beats cause alteration of consciousness, and how much the dopamine pathway is involved. Furthermore, could binaural beats become addictive? Could they be a real alternative therapeutic agent? These are questions to be considered for further review.
Peer Reviewed References:
- Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H, Zajdel D. Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess neuropscyhologic, physiologic, and electroencephalographic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2007;13(2):199-209.
- Brady B, Stevens L. Binaural-beat induced theta EEG activity and hypnotic susceptibility. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 2000;43(1):53-69.
- Stevens L, Haga Z, Queen Z, et al. Binaural beat induced theta EEG activity and hypnotic susceptibility: contradictory results and technical considerations. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 2003;45(4):295-309.
- Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H. Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2007;13(1):25-32.