A common question people ask is whether or not there is any scientific research behind binaural beats.
In short, yes, there has been a fair amount of research over the past 20 years.
As you might know, there has been a lot of research on the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and relaxing music in general, and binaural beats has become an extension of that research and resulted in numerous studies.
Like most people, you probably find it pretty boring to plough through scientific papers and read all the technical jargon; so in this post, I have provided a quick-fire summary of a variety of research studies.
Where the study is available online, I have linked to it so you can follow it up and read further details.
I have covered a number of areas such as anxiety, memory and sleep, and included a mix of scientific and PHD research, which goes a long way in proving the effectiveness of binaural beats in general.
As you'll note, there's evidence on how binaural beats can increase relaxation, change the production of hormones in the body, reduce anxiety and stress, and much more.
1. Research: Stress & Pain
This section of research covers the effectiveness of using binaural beats for stress relief, pain management, healing and general relaxation:
1) A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment, Tina L Huang, PHD; Christine Charyton, PHD
This research paper is a summary of 20 peer-reviewed studies that look at the psychological effects of Brainwave Entrainment.
The overiding conclusion was that brainwave entrainment is an “effective therapeutic tool”.
This research summarised that the subjects in the study who suffered from cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headaches and migraines, PMS and other behavioural problems largely benefitted from using binaural beats.
Here's a sample quote from the paper:
The immediate psychological effects on memory, attention, stress, pain, headaches and migraines were shown to benefit from even a single session of brainwave entrainment.
One study in particular found that improvements in intelligence and behaviour lasted post the listening process, and that users would then naturally reproduce the brainwave frequencies as time went on.
This therefore suggests that the results of listening to binaural beats can last into the medium and perhaps long term.
2) Research Papers: Wilson, 1990, Rhodes, 1993
This collection of papers concluded that binaural beats increase relaxation, meditation, pain management, improve sleep, and reduce stress.
I do not have a link to this research online, but you will find their research referenced in a number of other music therapy studies.
3) Research Paper: Hiew, 1995
This regularly cited study concluded that binaural beats assist in increasing levels of creativity, relaxation and meditation.
4) Research Paper: Robert Monroe, Monroe Institute
The Monroe Institute is well noted for its fine work into the study of brainwave entrainment, and as such has helped people with depression, anxiety, addiction and more.
This particular study found that binaural beats…
increased focus, problem solving, creativity, memory, learning, sleep induction, pain control and enhanced learning.
This study was referenced in the 1986 book Megabrain, by Michael Hutchison.
2. Research: Hormonal Function
The effects of binaural beats on hormone production is widely documented. Below are three examples of research in this area.
1) Dr Vincent Giampapa, MD, Former President of American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine
Dr Giampapa documented that binaural beats “dramatically” affect the production of three hormones directly related to longevity of life and overall well-being: cortisol, DHEA and melatonin:
- Cortisol is found in the adrenal glands and impacts learning and memory.
- DHEA is used as a “source ingredient” for many other hormones, and plays a roll in a healthy immune system.
- Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and regulates sleep and wakefulness.
2) In a separate study using the popular Holosync program:
- Cortisol levels decreased by an average of 46%
- DHEA increased by an average of 43%
- Melatonin production increased by an average of 98%.
3) Dr Margaret Patterson & Dr Ifor Capel, Marie Curie Cancer Foundation Research Department
This research concluded that listening to alpha state binaural beats aids production of serotonin, a hormone which increases feelings of happiness, assists in relaxation and eases pain.
The study also noted that binaural beats that use theta waves help boost production of catecholamines, which are vital to memory and learning.
This leads nicely onto the next section.
3. Research: Memory & IQ
1) Research Paper: Dr Siegried Othmer
In this study, neurofeedback specialist Dr Siegried Othmer studied how brainwave entrainment affected IQ. The result on subjects was an average IQ increase of 23%.
In subjects where the starting IQ was lower than 100, the average IQ increase was 33 points.
Dr Othmer also reported “dramatic improvements” in the subjects' visual retention memory), reading, auditory memory and arithmetic skills.
A year later in a follow-up study of the same subjects, Dr Othmer reported “major” long-term improvements in self-esteem and concentration, and “significant” improvements in sleep patterns, a reduction in irritability, and improvements in organisational skills.
4. Research: Anxiety & Mood
1) Alternative Therapy Health & Medicine, 2001
This study looked at the effectiveness of binaural beats for the treatment of anxiety.
The subjects used the binaural beats five times a week for four weeks.
The study concluded:
Listening to binaural beat tapes in the delta/theta electroencephalogram range may be beneficial in reducing anxiety.
2) Journal of Alternative & Complimentary Medicine, Jan / Feb 2007, Binaural Beat Technology in Humans: A Pilot Study to Assess the Psychological & Physiological Effects, by Helane Wahbeh, Carlo Calabrese, Heather Zwickey.
This research study involved eight healthy adults over a 60-day period.
The study reported a “decrease in anxiety, and an increase in the quality of life” for the binaural beats control group.
3) Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance & Mood: By James D. Lane, Stefan J. Kasian, Justine E. Owens & Gail R. Marsh
This study on performance and mood concluded the following:
The results of this study demonstrate clearly that simple binaural-beat auditory stimulation can influence psychomotor and affective processes, even when people are unaware that such signals are being presented.
5. Research: Sleep
In this section you'll find two interesting studies on sleep and binaural beats.
I'd like to add to this that, anecdotally, better sleep seems to a side effect of using delta, theta and alpha binaural beats to some extent, though entrainment for sleep usually occurs in the delta state (0-4 hz).
For those suffering insomnia, it may take regular use over a long period of time to see sustainable results, but for the average person better sleep may be apparent within days.
1) Dr Arthur Hastings, PHD, 1975: Tests of the Sleep Induction Technique
This study concluded that binaural beats, particularly theta and delta recordings, influence people to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
You can find more information on this study in this paper.
2) Abeln V, Kleinert J, Strüder HK, Schneider S.: Brainwave entrainment for better sleep & post-sleep state of young elite soccer players
This rather fascinating study concluded the following:
In summary, eight weeks of auditory stimulation with binaural beats improved perceived sleep quality and the post-sleep state of athletes, whereas the effect on physical level is assumed to occur in a time-delayed fashion
* Also see Wilson, 1990, and Rhodes, 1993, in the first section on stress.
6. Research: Addiction & Depression
1) Research Paper by Peniston and Kulkosky, 1989
This research study involved two groups, both suffering alchohol addiction.
Group 1 attended a regular '12 step' AA program ( thecontrol group), while Group 2 received 15 20-minute sessions of alpha and theta binaural beats ( the experimental group).
After 13 months, Group 1 – the AA-attending control group – saw an alcohol relapse of 80%. The group saw no change in their levels of depression, which was measure by Beck's Depression Inventory.
After 13 months, Group 2 – the binaural beats group – saw a 20% relapse rate, while depression levels reduced to a third of what they were prior to the study.
2) Research Paper by Waldkoetter & Sanders, 1997
Similarly, this study also suggested that auditory brainwave stimulation decreased symptoms of depression in alcoholic test subjects.
7. Additional Research
Below is a handful of other notable papers worth looking into:
1) Auditory Beats in the Brain, Dr Gerald Oster, 1973, Scientific American
This was the landmark paper that has been cited numerous times regarding binaural beats. Dr Oster concluded that binaural beats do entrain the brain the (frequency following response) and may therefore be able to influence brain states (paraphrased).
2) On the Frequency Limits of Binaural Beats, Harvard & Acoustical Society of America
This study confirmed, as Oster did, that binaural beats cause brain synchronicity (i.e. the left brain and right brain operating in harmony).
3) Dr Lester Fehmi, Director of Princeton Behavioural Medicine & Biofeedback Clinic
Dr Fehmi confirmed the same and more, concluding that brainwave Synchronisation and indeed entrainment can be induced by binaural beats.
This was also reported in the 1986 book Megabrain, by Michael Hutchison.
4) Research Paper by Foster, 1990
This paper concludes that alpha Binaural Beats do indeed increase the production of alpha brainwaves.
5) EEG Disentrainment Feedback, Dr Ochs, 1993
This paper suggests that there is no need for a listener to consciously do anything when listening to binaural beats to achieve results. In short, just listen!
Binaural Beats Research, In Summary
That brings us to the end of my binaural beats research. This was a mixture of research from the past 20 years, and there's a lot more out there.
I will make a big effort to gather some of the latest findings and bring that to you soon. Sign up for my updates to the left of this post and I'll notify you of when I get that written up.
I hope this has allayed some of your reservations on whether to try brainwave entrainment, and put some of the hearsay to rest.
Sure, not every study is perfect; there are flaws in studies sometimes – such as a small control group, or only an insignificant correlation of effects.
But I think you'll find that the majority of these studies are solid and were professionally carried out.
Also consider that funding for such studies can be rare in niche markets like this, especially where the outcome can impact on “big pharma”.
Why would any big company making tons of cash out of pills want to fund research that could help people prevent anxiety, reduce depression, lower the affects of ADHD, overcome addiction, and sleep better?!
People would start to flush the happy pills down the toilet and listen to more meditation music instead!
Do note: I have done my best to report the studies in this post accurately, but I am not a Doctor or student of medicine. If you see something that isn't correct, please email me and give me a heads up. I'd appreciate that.