A study published in Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology by Paul Williams and Michael West in 1975 examined the brainwave states of people experienced in meditation while using photic stimulation, and another study by Leonard, Telch, and Harrington in 1999 examined the successful use of brainwave entrainment techniques for attaining meditative states in subjects.
A crossover RCT of a single session of theta stimulation in four healthy adults reported no significant improvement in verbal fluency or attention associated with the intervention and a reduction in immediate recall. Controlled comparisons reported significant benefit from the intervention in all three outcomes measured. Six pre/post studies reported significant benefit from the intervention for 19 of 28 cognitive outcomes.
Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts (apparent sounds) resulting from the stimulation of the ears with two different sound frequencies. In fact, when two different vibrations are delivered to the brain separately through each ear, using stereo headphones, the two hemispheres of the brain function together to “hear” and perceive not the external sound signals, but a third phantom signal. This resulting signal, discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, is called “binaural beat”. The effect on the brain waves depends on the difference of each tone. For example, if a sound frequency of 300 Hz is played in the left ear and 307 Hz in the right one, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 7 Hz (“frequency following response”) which corresponds to the Alpha brain state, generally associated with relaxation, visualization and creativity. The beating tone is perceived as if the two tones mixed naturally, out of the brain. For the binaural beat effect to occur, the difference between the two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30 Hz), otherwise, the two tones will be heard separately, and no beat will be perceived.
The brain will entrain to the strongest stimulus. If you combine binaural beats with isochronic tones, your brainwaves will entrain to the isochronic tones. If anything, when you combine the two I believe it makes the track less effective because it makes it harder for the brain to decipher between the two and synchronise to a single beat. There are lots of websites with compelling marketing about the benefits of combining the two together in some funky way, but I haven’t seen any research or lots of anecdotal feedback even to suggest it’s effective to combine them.
Our brainwave states are natural. Guiding the brain into those states intentionally by using entrainment is just another way of experiencing those same natural states. Nothing “unnatural” is produced by the brain as a result of using entrainment. The only thing that is different is that when using entrainment we often go into the experience with either general expectations, or a well defined laundry list of specific expectations that we associate with entrainment. We have no such list going throughout our normal day when we’re not using entrainment.
For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, and yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress, boost your energy and mood, and improve your mental and physical health.
Both brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback deal with brainwaves, but the similarity stops there. Entrainment pushes your whole brain into a pre-determined state, while neurofeedback teaches you how to move specific parts of your brain on your own. It is the differeence between forcing the brain into a given position, and skills building so you can move it there yourself.