Transparent Corp's Research Area is arguably the most comprehensive resource for collated brainwave entrainment research. Update: the main research area on Transparent Corp's website is currently being updated, so it is offline. However, you can still access their peer-reviewed research paper as a PDF here: “A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment“.
One can also learn to control and slow down their brain waves through various neurofeedback technologies such as electroencephalograph (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), and heart, pulse and breath rate monitors. These devices measure stress and relaxation parameters and then "play" back the signals to the user so they can use the signals as a beacon to guide and "steer" themselves into a relaxed state. This takes some time, work and discipline but is much quicker than learning meditation.
A popular opinion in the brainwave entrainment community is that listening to isochronic tones without music produces a much stronger effect. However, in the study by Doherty, Cormac. “A comparison of alpha brainwave entrainment, with and without musical accompaniment” (2014), it was concluded that brainwave entrainment was equally effective for isochronic tones, both with and without music.
“Chronic stress,” however, is not so easily resolved. This type of stress is associated more commonly with negative health concerns. Chronic stress results when there are constant multiple stressors or major life stressors present (4). Money, work, and the economy were the most commonly reported factors contributing to chronic stress in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2011 Stress in America™ survey (3). Additional significant stressors include relationships, family responsibilities, family and personal health problems, job stability, and personal safety (3). Major events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and moving also can produce chronic stress.
These are just a few examples. This silly list literally goes on for pages and pages, and it is pure hogwash almost without exception. Unfortunately there are many people dealing with personal problems that read nonsense like this and want very badly for it to be true. Perhaps they don’t believe every word, but they believe or hope that at least some of it is accurate information. These hopes and beliefs contribute to the generation of false expectations, so that when listening to an entrainment frequency of 10.3Hz doesn’t clear up their stuffy sinuses they conclude entrainment doesn’t work. The digestion of such foolishness is an impediment to realizing the true value of entrainment.
Escape from a stressful situation by remembering a favorite vacation spot or a place where you feel cozy and at home. “Make sure to take note of every detail of your favorite spot—the more detailed your visualization, the more stress gets kicked to the curb,” Dr. Serani says. “For me, it’s a beautiful spot on the beach in my native Long Island. But it’s not just the white velvet sand of the beach or the teal blue ocean water; it’s the sounds of the surf, the tang of the salt water, the feel of the sun, the waves in the distance, and the imagined walk I take along the water.” You can combine this with a three-word mantra like “blue-ocean-water,” Serani suggests. Miller calls the visualization of a memory that evokes a positive association an “anchor.” She remembers watching beautiful sunsets in Costa Rica. “Now that I am back in the hustle and bustle of life, I will often pause and take mini-retreats, bringing up the anchored experience of inner calm that I felt watching the sunsets,” she says.
Our everyday, waking brain used for active intelligence operates at approximately 13 hertz, which is in the range of high alpha or low beta frequencies. People who have certain learning disabilities and problems with attention often have low levels of 13 hertz frequency brainwaves in crucial areas of the brain used for sequencing tasks and doing simple math calculations. This is one concrete example of how brainwaves are associated with thinking and behavior. Each identified brainwave frequency has a different effect on a person’s ability to think, act, and feel.
The brain has two hemispheres that operate somewhat independently from one another. The two hemispheric structures of the brain are connected by a large nerve, called the corpus callosum, which sends information back and forth between the two sides of the brain. In most people, the left hemisphere controls language, logical thinking, and analytic processes and the right side contains the centers for emotion, intuition, and non-linear creative thinking.
The brain is composed of millions of specialized cells called neurons. Neurons send signals to other neurons using electro-chemical messengers called neuro-transmitters that attach to receiving sites located on the neurons themselves. There is a space between the end of the neuron and the receptor called the synaptic gap. As neuro-transmitter chemicals move across this gap, a small electrical charge is created.
A potential and generally desired result of brainwave entrainment is hemispheric synchronization. It refers to a state when the brainwave pattern of the right and left hemispheres become alike. It is said that a person with similar activity in both hemispheres tend to be happier, more optimistic and more emotionally stable and less prone to mental illness. Studies found that increased levels of synchronization are found naturally in people who meditate regularly and people who are very happy with their lives in general.
Experts haven't figured out why having your body pressed and prodded works wonders, but they know that it does. Studies suggest massage can speed up weight gain in premature babies, improve lung function in asthmatics and boost immunity in men with HIV. If you can't indulge in regular full-body massages, treat yourself to the occasional pedicure, manicure or facial—all nurturing, hands-on treats that offer some of the mind-body benefits of massage.
When two pure tones of slightly different frequencies are delivered simultaneously to the two ears, is generated a beat whose frequency corresponds to the frequency difference between them. That beat is known as acoustic beat. If these two tones are presented one to each ear, they still produce the sensation of the same beat, although no physical combination of the tones occurs outside the... [Show full abstract]
Recent research at the University of Lisbon finally uncovered the reason for the 350 year-old mystery, finding that the resonance of sound is the mechanism for entrainment of swinging pendulums and ticking clocks, and it seems likely that the energy transferred by sound is also responsible for other observations of entrainment, including brainwave entrainment.
Slightly higher-frequency entrainment can lead to hyper suggestive states of consciousness. Still higher-frequency EEG states are associated with alert and focused mental activity needed for the optimal performance of many tasks. Perceived reality changes depending on the state of consciousness of the perceiver (Tart, 1975). Some states of consciousness provide limited views of reality, while others provide an expanded awareness of reality. For the most part, states of consciousness change in response to the ever-changing internal environment and surrounding stimulation. For example, states of consciousness are subject to influences like drugs and circadian and ultradian rhythms (Rossi, 1986; Shannahoff-Khalsa, 1991; Webb & Dube, 1981). Specific states of consciousness can also be learned as adaptive behaviors to demanding circumstances (Green and Green, 1986).
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
Cory Allen [b. 1982] is a composer and mastering engineer living in Austin, Texas. His work focuses on the cultivation of human perception with the intent of altering the listener's state of consciousness. Allen's music is deep, patient, meditative, highly-conceptual and often composed by implementing self-organizing structures, rule-based performances, set pitch classes and a wide variety of instruments.
How does brainwave entrainment work? Consistent, precisely engineered audio frequencies in the form of binaural beats cause the brain’s frequencies to match the stimulus. Your brain perceives two beats with slightly different frequencies (which are inaudible to the ear) through your headphones. It takes the difference between the two, and matches its own frequency to it. This is called the “frequency following” response.