Binaural Beats: A Digital Drug?

Back in 1839, German experimenter Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered that when two different frequencies are presented to each ear, your brain can detect the phase variation between the two. But what’s most interesting is that not only does it detect the difference, it tries to reconcile it.

During this attempt to reconcile the two different frequencies, your brain creates its own third frequency, which is called a binaural beat. This beat is equal to the difference between the two separate frequencies.

The Brainwaves of Consciousness

There are five different cognitive states that your brain operates within, each with its own corresponding frequency: Gamma (>40 Hz), Beta (13 – 39 Hz), Alpha (7 – 13 Hz), Theta (4 – 7 Hz) and Delta (<4 Hz). The lower the frequency, the less alertness you have until you’re in deep sleep, which is what occurs during the Delta phase.

Since the discovery of binaural beats, some studies have shown that they can actually alter brain activity – for example, by using a 10 Hz binaural beat, which is considered an Alpha frequency, you can stimulate your brain to resonate at the same frequency.

Bearing the above knowledge in mind, you can probably see why some people claim that binaural beats are “digital drugs”. By altering the frequency of your brain, you can push it into different states of consciousness, much in the same way that drugs can be used to take your brain into levels of consciousness that can otherwise not simply be “turned on”.

Conflicting Studies

Despite these promising findings and theories, there is still conflict between the current data available on binaural beats. Although some studies support the ability of binaural beats to alter consciousness, others are unclear.

A study from Japan came to the conclusion that, despite variable results, binaural beats can be used to stimulate activity in the brain, although the cause is likely more related to a conscious reaction to the sounds rather than the actual frequency of the beat. 

Alternatively, a separate study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that it is indeed possible to induce specific EEG frequencies in the brain that are directly related to the frequency of the binaural beat used, although it was a single subject study that was not blinded or controlled.

With such conflicting results, it’s hard to say just how effective binaural beats are in influencing the brain and human consciousness. Despite this ambiguity, the possibility of using sound waves to influence consciousness is an exciting idea and, hopefully, further research will give us more insight into the potentials of this interesting enigma. 

Tyler MacDonald is a writer with an interest in science, psychology and various other topics.