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From Sound Location to iMusic

Binaural Beat Technology, a Premature


Market

ABSTRACT: Certain training devices and some


sound effects can modify the global electrical
activity of your brain. From epilepsy to some
mood disorders targets for possible clinical uses
keep growing. Though insufficiently studied an
aggressively appealing new age industry is
flooding the market with recordings that give
promise of enhancing brain power; from The first part of this article is dedicated to sound
meditation to memorizing, from relaxation to location which will allow an understanding of
alert states of more efficient functioning. what Binaural Beats are. Then some general
ideas on the electrical activity of the brain and
The confusing information around this not-so- electroencephalographic (EEG) measures are
new market and the Binaural Beats upon which purported to later discover how can those be
it is construed have led this comprehensive modified, either with EEG biofeedback or
review that explores the fundamentals of sound Binaural Beat recordings, and its implications.
location, the Binaural Beat effect, brain waves
and EEG biofeedback, in order to provide some Sound Location
basic information with which to confront the
believe-it-or-not bet of new age "brain training".
Under normal conditions any sound will
stimulate both, left and right ears,
independently.

From the very beginning the brain processes


auditory information binaurally (this is, from the
conveying information coming from both, left
and right ears). Binaural

Introduction

A Binaural Beat is a sound effect that creates a


wave "inside the head" of the listener. As the
frequency range of these waves is equivalent to
that of electrical waves generated by brain
activity binaural beats can be used to induce processing allows the brain to identify single
specific brain waves and thus, supposedly, to auditory "objects", interpreting left and right
generate specific mental states. different inputs not as two distinct sounds but as
only one percept.
The whole matter is really that simple. The aim
of this review is to discover how and to what Imagine there is someone shouting right at your
extent all this is true and how and to what extent left ear. Not only the left but also the right
can the marketed promises of products such as auditory system will be stimulated by the
Hemi-Sync or iMusic recordings be given any shouting although their information (left and
credit. right) will differ as far as, for example, distance
to the sound differs from one or the other ear.
These differences will be compensated by
particular assemblies of neurons to form a
combined (single) perception and serve to
calculate, for example, the location of sound in
space.
Location of sound depends on inter-aural (left- When using headphones a slight difference in
right) differences in volume (sound intensity), phase of left and right sounds (Fig 1) will shift
time and phase differences (Fig 1) and on the the location of the sound (still perceived as if
Head Related Transfer Function (HRTF), which inside the cranium) a little bit towards the side
is an expression of the particular characteristics of the wave interpreted to come first (Fig 5; in
of ears and cranial configuration and the way Fig 1 the Blue (right) wave would be interpreted
these relate to sounds of different locations in as arriving before the Red (left) one).
space. Basically the HRTF purports information
of distance to the sound in a sagittal plane while Binaural Beats
intensity and time and phase differences provide
an angular value in a transversal (horizontal)
plane (Fig 2). Jointly a three-dimensional The pitch of a sound (Fig 6) is determined by its
spotting of the source of sound is thus wavelength (deeper sounds have larger
calculated. wavelengths than high-pitched ones). "Binaural
Beat" is the name given to the sound effect that
is perceived when listening to sounds in the left
Let us say left and right ears are stimulated with and right ears (using headphones) that differ
sounds such as those expressed in Fig 3 and let slightly in pitch.
us convey that the HRTF function for these
sounds locate them 2 meters in front of the
listener. As far as there are no intensity or phase
differences no left-right angular deviation will
be perceived and so the source of the sound will
be located right in front of the listener. But let us
now imagine that the HRTF informs that the
distance to both ears is null; in this case the
source of the sound will be located inside the
cranium of the listener (Fig 4). This is precisely
what happens when one listens to (non-stereo)
music with headphones; sounds are perceived as
if located somewhere inside the head. This slight difference in pitch produces a
progressive displacement of right and left waves
(Fig 7). As already seen in Fig 5 a mismatch in
the phase of right and left waves displaces the
perceived location of the sound towards one
side. A progressive mismatch will be perceived
as if the location of the sound (always inside the
cranium) was moving (Fig 8). When the
difference in pitch is small the mismatch-
rematch of both waves occurs so fast that the
"movement" of the sound is perceived as a
vibration, as if the source of the sound was
vibrating inside the cranium. This vibration can
itself be expressed as a wave and the value of its
wavelength is exactly the right-left wavelength convey information into single percepts or
difference (pitch difference in cycles per objects.
second). This value (the wavelength of the
perceived movement of the sound) is very
interesting as already mentioned and as we will
soon see.

For the binaural beat (the perception of a


vibrating sound inside the cranium) to take
place the right-left pitch difference must be less
than 30 Hz (cycles per second) or else the
listener will perceive two different sounds,
produced at the right and left ears (as it is
actually the case), instead of interpreting them
as a single sound.

EEG and
the Electrical Activity of the Brain

Neuronal cells are believed to be the functional


substrate of mental activity. It is well known
that a neuron can release molecules -at the
synaptic spaces- that are able to change the
Jeff Fletcher in his highly
membrane properties of the cell such stimulated.
recommendable article describes Binaural Beats
These membrane properties are related to the
as hallucinations. Not wanting to lessen a bit the
balance of certain ions, inside and outside the
magic of sound effects the truth is that every
neuron, which is cause of the electrical changes
perceptual process in the brain is a
that can be measured at this level.
"hallucination", a construct of "objects" from
small pieces of information, many times
unrelated. Allow me a digression to show you The electrical activity of single neurons can be
The Dancer (and please take a trip to the measured, even in humans, by inserting
amazing web-page of Dr. Hugo; also, for visual electrodes in the neuronal tissue. Costly -and
"hallucinations", check out this link). You may rather aggressive- single neuron measures are of
perceive The Dancer (click on the image) as limited interest when trying to understand
turning around anti-clockwise or maybe "mental states" or general brain function. The
clockwise. If you try you can get yourself to Electroencephalogram (EEG) is a far less
perceive The Dancer turning the other way specific but a non-invasive way to measure the
around. Some people do perceive spontaneously global electrical activity of the brain.
The Dancer as constantly changing the direction
of her movement. Dr. Hugo oversimplifies when Usually 10 to 20 electrodes are placed around
explaining that the turning direction perceived the skull and measures of global electrical
depends on right-left hemispheric dominance activity of different regions of the brain are thus
but whatever the explanation truth is that her obtained. Functional Magnetic Resonance
very movement is a "hallucination". Anyway, Imaging (fMRI), which measures oxygen
hallucination in this sense only means an effect uptake, can also obtain indirect rates of brain
produced by a perceptual system that tries to activity but it is important to note here that
either EEG or state-of-the-art fMRI measures
are but crude approximations to brain brainwave-oriented treatments. EEG
functioning. biofeedback (or 'neurofeedback') is the
particular form of biofeedback with which an
An EEG will show brain waves of different individual can learn to stimulate and/or avoid
frequencies as it detects the adding electrical certain brain wave frequencies.
activity of enormous groups of neurons at a
given time. Depending on general activity Biofeedback
patterns it is observed that some kind of waves
appear more often than others. Generally, a Basically biofeedback is a procedure in which a
relaxed subject with closed eyes -or listening to physiological variable (such as the cardiac
Mozart- will show waves that range from 8 to frequency or the electrical conductance of the
12 Hz, mainly on the posterior regions of the skin) is amplified and brought forward to the
skull. These waves are called "alpha waves", as attention of a subject. Then the subject is
they were the first to be identified. motivated to find a way to change that variable
in a specified direction which will (almost
magically) enable him to (consciously) control
an otherwise autonomic response.

A common way of biofeedback presentation is


as a computer game in which the subject must
try to control for example the movements of a
spot on a screen (that changes its left-right
position accordingly to the physiological
variable being measured), following explicit
instructions and with no other tools than his
"mind" and the electrodes connected to the
machine.

Thus defined biofeedback might seem a silly


and inappropriate joke but truth is that it is an
incredibly simple but powerful learning
A "beta procedure. Its efficacy has been widely probed.
rhythm" corresponds to EEG waves of 12 to 30 Paradoxically enough best results have been
Hz and appears often related to active and found when the subject does not know what
sometimes anxious thinking. On the opposite variable is he trying to affect.
side very slow waves of less than 3 Hz are
usually found during deep sleep in normal adult
As previously noted when the physiological
subjects.
variable being measured is (a localized) brain
wave frequency the subject ends up learning
Some pathological conditions do show how to facilitate the appearance of specific
particular wave patterns. For instance EEG frequencies over others (a process that is
studies are widely used to determine epileptic sometimes called entraining). Many
predisposition, observing spikes and sharp controversial and still germinal studies point to
waves intermingled within the otherwise normal the efficacy of such a training method in certain
and chaotic "beta" or "alpha" rhythms. Some mood disorders (facilitating slow "alpha"
neurological conditions, drug induced states or -relaxing- brain rhythms), ADHD (stimulating
mood disorders do show general deficits or normal EEG patterns) or epilepsy (stimulating
excesses of particular wave frequency ranges. midrange brainwave frequencies).
For example there are studies that suggest that
some forms of attention-deficit hyperactivity
Binaural Beats and the Frequency Following
disorder (ADHD) are related to an excess of low
Effect
frequency waves and some anxiety and mood
disorders are believed to be related to scarce
"alpha" wave production. Binaural Beats are said to allow yet a different
way of "tuning" the brain into specific wave
frequencies. It has been mentioned before that
Although not always consistent these results
binaural beats frequency range is below 30 Hz,
that point to more or less specific brainwave-
which is similar to the brain wave frequency
frequency deficits or excesses as related to
range found on EEG recordings. That range
certain pathologies constitute the foundation of
equivalence allows the Frequency Following
Effect (FFE) to take place, by which brainwaves As already mentioned an "alpha" rhythm is
should slowly shift towards the frequency of the found on relaxed subjects. A biological cause-
beat. consequence confusion has led to believe that
"alpha" wave stimulation must provoke a
relaxed state. This has not been found.

Furthermore even the general brainwave shift


after binaural beat stimulation is controversial.
The FFE is actually related with short latency
auditory evoked potentials and not with general
effects over the brain. The Monroe Institute has
led the investigation on this field and its
consistently positive results relating binaural
beat and global brainwave shifts have been
called to caution after lack of independent
" similar results and patent links of this Institute
Christiaan Huygens found out in 1665 that two with Hemi-Sync products (for further discussion
pendulum clocks suspended by the side of each read this experiment and critical review)
other did establish an odd kind of sympathy; the
pendulum clocks swung with exactly the same Conclusive Remarks
frequency and 180 degrees out of phase.
Synchronization has been found out to relay on Passive training is probably one of the marks of
platform motion such that damping effects favor our times. Devices for no-effort cooking,
antiphase motion (of the pendulums) while washing or physical shaping are in fashion.
inphase oscillations induce additional counter- Passive brain training is no exception.
motion of the frame" (from Huygen's Clocks)
Neurofeedback is a fascinating tool that could
Synchronization means adjustment of rhythms well be used not only as a therapeutic
of self-sustained periodic oscillators due to their instrument but also as a training device to
weak interaction; this adjustment can be prevent and equilibrate pre-morbid states.
described in terms of phase locking and Although deeper and more ample studies are
frequency entrainment. Biological systems do still needed preliminary results do show
also show synchronization effects and the FFE promising trends.
would be but an example.
The sliding towards binaural beat technology
It has been described that the act of listening to and its appealing low-effort "training" combined
binaural beats does promote a general with an aggressive marketing and biased
brainwave pattern shift towards the (stable) "scientific" articles do only serve as a drawback
frequency of the beat. Although this forced for the more serious investigation that the field
change of brainwave pattern has never been requires.
related to spontaneous mood or "mental state"
corresponding changes "alpha" range Binaural There is yet no proof that listening to binaural
Beats were promptly marketed as able to beats can change the mental state of the listener
enhance meditative states or as anti-stress in spite of the observations that there might
devices, embedded in natural sounds (waterfalls, exist a brainwave shift. Few independent studies
bird singing, etc), slow repetitive mantras or have been published on possible binaural beat
rhythms and hypnotic or guided imagery chat. effects. Among the most interesting experiences
a single case study with positive results on an
The Hemi-Sync provides one of the oldest such epileptic dog is described by David S. Walonick.
recordings I know of; iMusic is one of the On the contrary, depression enhancement and
newest ones. iMusic amplifies the range of some recall impairments have been described in
binaural beat frequencies extending it up to slow a small study with 7 Hz binaural beat exposition
and not so slow "beta" rhythms and also down (Wahbeh H et al)
towards the slower side of "delta" sleep-
facilitating waves, embedding the binaural beats Neurofeedback as a clinical procedure is still
in just normal music. Still very far from probe under investigation. Its positive trends though
iMusic is said to enhance brain power, to turn are confused as proof of Binaural Beat
you smarter, faster and probably happier. technology. The truth is that the results of
Neurofeedback are till scarce and contradictory
and that there exists no relation yet between the . Silva Related
possible effects of EEG biofeedback active
training and the passive exposition to Binaural . Critical Review from Penn Engineering
Beats.
. Are neocortical gamma waves related to
Finally it is important to remember that, consciousness?
specially in healthy subjects, the EEG patterns
are excessively unspecific and interindividually . Human Central Auditory Plasticity Associated
variable so as to pretend, even accepting a With Tone Sequence Learning
particular brainwave shift, that such a shift
should be paralleled by specific brain function
empowerment of just any subject. . Huygens’ pendulums (abstract)

On EEG related treatments the most promising . The Story of Maynooth


fields of investigation today seem to be both
compensation therapies and specific brainwave . De la Localización del Sonido al iMusic
frequency range facilitation attending to
individualized activity patterns.

Chema Nieto

(bongobundos.blogs.com)

Figures & Graphics by Elisa Robles and Chema


Nieto

Further Reading & Links:

. Binaural Beats by Jeff Fletcher

. Binaural Beats (Wiki)

. Psychology Wikia

. Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot


study to assess neuropsychologic, physiologic,
and electroencephalographic effects

. Role of Neurofeedback in the Treatment of


ADHD

. Neurofeedback in Addictive Disorders


Treatment

. Effect of neurofeedback training on the neural


substrates of selective attention in children with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A
functional magnetic resonance imaging study

. The frequency-following response in subjects


with profound unilateral hearing loss.

. Human frequency-following responses to


monaural and binaural stimuli

. Monroe Institute Research Papers