One question I get asked on a weekly basis by someone somewhere in the world, is whether or not my hypnosis audio programmes contain binaural beats.
The simple answer is that no, I don’t.
I then get told that they are the best way to induce theta level brain wave activity and delta level brainwaves, and that is the best way to induce hypnosis.
Hmmmm… Is this true? Or is it just a load of bollocks old nonsense?
There are many, many hypnosis audio programmes out there that claim to use binaural beats which help alter brainwave activity and induce different states within us. I even own some that are entitled “binaural beats – delta level” or “theta level binaural beats” and so on. You can google this stuff for evidence.
Last year, during Derren Browns Enigma stage show, he claimed that the sound he was playing in the auditorium was enough to induce a powerful state of trance within the audience and some would respond better than others… Oh how powerful is the use of suggestion!
So is it true? Can these binaural beats actually change our brainwave patterns and induce hypnosis? Should I be using them in my audio programmes? Am I missing a trick here, as some have suggested?
Well, it does not stop there, I am going to explore their hypnosis-inducing claims as is relevant to this blog, but binaural beats producers claim to help send you to sleep, create recreational drug-like experiences (i-doser have a range of tracks entitled ‘Cocaine’, ‘Opium’ and ‘Marijuana’ which claim to induce the effects of those drugs) and enhance behaviour modification such as helping people overcome habits, develop memory and all manner of other stuff.
If you take the term verbatim, you’ll understand what they basically is. A binaural beat is created, (usually digitally and electronically) by playing a different tone in each ear, so you are advised to listen via headphones or you lose some of the effect; the slightly differing frequencies in each ear create a pattern that we then perceive as a beat. There is no actual beat, the difference between the two sounds makes it seem that there is. A binaural beat is basically two simple tones, often with other stuff laid on top, usually with a new-age theme, or sounds of nature, of that ilk.
The majority of websites that sell binaural beats music talk about a process called ‘resonant entrainment’ in order to explain how binaural beats effect the brain. Now what is that? It sounds scientific and clever and I guess most people wouldn’t bother questioning it. But is it just pseudoscience?
In ‘proper’ science fields, entrainment refers to two systems which oscillate at different frequencies of their own accord, which somehow come together. The two independently moving things synchronise with each other.
So, for example, you might have been on holiday or out late at night listening to the crickets making the cricket noise that they do so well, the insects end up synchronising the sounds they make. (Many people do associate that sound with being relaxed) A human example of entrainment is whereby people come together and dance for fun.
The popular claim made in most places online, is that the perceived low-frequency beat of the binaural beats entrain your brain wave pattern, which results in you experiencing a different state.
To put it in basic terms, what most of the proponents and sellers say is that the theory of entrainment means that when you listen to binaural beats, they cause your brain’s neurons to fire, creating electrical activity that then matches the pattern of the phantom beat.
Over at Binaural Beats website, they describe it this way:
Binaural beat recordings are specially generated sounds, designed to alter your brainwaves – bringing about different states of mind, such as happiness, creativity, or relaxation. They’re perfectly safe, non-addictive, and can be used as often as you like.
And they add:
For a long time, the scientific community has been aware that certain frequencies are associated with certain states of mind. For example, the alpha frequency of 8 to 12Hz is present when individuals are in the “zone”, in “superlearning”, positive-thinking modes. This frequency can be verified through an electroencephalograph (EEG) reading, and can usually only be obtained through meditation.
And then adds:
what German experimenter H.W. Dove discovered in 1839. He found out that by playing two coherent sounds of similar frequencies into each ear, one could produce a third “binaural beat” at a specific frequency INSIDE the mind… thereby directly influencing the brainwaves and the state of mind.
In the field of hypnosis, we tend to know a bit about electric wave forms of the brain associated with levels of hypnosis. Harry Arons, for example, is best known today for introducing a scale that is used for measuring the ‘depth’ of hypnosis, called the Arons scale, which recognises six levels of ‘trance’ depth:
1.Hypnoidal – heavy muscle and relaxed nerves – drowsiness – awareness.(got out of bed feeling)
2.Light hypnosis – physical response to suggestions – mind focused on suggestions – reacts to arm, etc. rigidity.
3.Medium Hypnosis – deeply relaxed – subject will not speak unless asked – unable to perform actions unless asked to do move arm – rise from chair – move head.
4.Profound Hypnosis (deep hypnosis) – partial amnesia when awakened – posthypnotic suggestions can be submitted – numbing parts of the body (ANALGESIA).
5.Somnambulism – total amnesia and anaesthesia is possible – age regression is possible – positive hallucinations possible.
6.Profound Somnambulism – removal of programmed information – posthypnotic suggestions – most all suggestions are carried out without questions. Often referred to as a coma state! Difficult to get out of this state – may need to bribe unconscious mind (you will not be allowed o experience this again unless…)
Lots of those claiming that binaural beats induce hypnotic states, draw parallels to hypnotic states and levels of brainwave activity. Those levels are usually as follows:
1. Beta Waves – physical alertness > conscious awareness. Cycles per second 14.0 – 30.0
2. Alpha Waves – a light or hypnoidal trance called meditation > a slowing down of brain and body pulsation (action). Cycles per second 7.0 – 14.0
3. Theta Waves – experience twice a day > when falling asleep and waking > Theta Waves are maintained while in hypnosis > at this level behaviour can be modified. Cycles per second 4.0 – 7.0
4. Delta Waves – Delta is profound sleep and further slowing of body functions > healing, cell regeneration and other necessary body functions occur while in Delta. Cycles per second .5 – 3.5
The claim that is subsequently made by the binaural beat sellers matches these things up with an unusual sense of logic. For example, they claim that a binaural beat with a frequency of XYX produces the theta level brainwave to occur in your head, which is considered a somnambulisitc hypnosis state.
It is extended further by the likes of i-doser who claim that when you are under the influence of a particular drug, your brainwave activity is XYZ, therefore, if you listen to the binaural beats at that same level, your brainwaves induce that experience for you.
Sadly, this is nonsense. How I wish it were not.
Such claims presume that we know the exact frequency of the electric brainwaves (electroencephalogram, EEG) required for each unique individual in each of these desired conditions.
Fact: Brain waves don’t work that way.
It is incorrect and wrong to suggest that some sort of brain condition occurs if we get your EEG to read exactly XYZ Hz.
In fact, it actually works the other way around. It is the brain state that produces a level of brain waves; brain waves don’t produce brain states. Put simply, you can’t just listen to sounds that somehow turn a dial to a number of Hz in your brain and induce instant hypnosis!
It would seem that the attempts made by these purveyors of binaural beats to offer up a scientific explanation is flawed, that does not necessarily mean binaural beats don’t create some responses within some people. I have had many subjective, anecdotal success stories fed back to me over the years advocating the use of binaural beats.
Some people and research groups have attempted to explain it. A study conducted at Hofstra University in 2008 played two different binaural beats and a control sound (a babbling brook to act as placebo) to patients with high blood pressure. No difference was measured between the groups.
In 2006, the Journal of Neurophysiology shared some work conducted in Japan whereby binaural beats were played to subjects while their EEGs were monitored. The results were highly variable.
There are research projects offered up by some of these sites selling binaural beats, but they are not peer reviewed or published in credible journals and are not blind trials; they are often funded by those wanting to prove certain results.
Let’s be honest here though… In fact, lets flag down a cab and head for real street. Do we really need research to prove to us that music can affect our moods and physiology? No, I don’t think so.
I listen to certain kinds of music to keep me going when running, we play different music at dinner parties, and I have been known to sit at traffic lights playing air guitar to an imagined packed Wembley stadium. Music can do stuff to us, can’t it?
You know what? Some people might find binaural beats to help them feel a certain way in exactly the same way that any music can make us feel a certain way. It is just that there is currently no real evidence to suggest that binaural beats create any more of a special state within people than any other kind of music.
As a hypnotherapist, it would be remiss of me to not mention one very powerful thing here though…
If I create an audio programme stating that it uses binaural beats to help you lose weight, you are most likely to report that it helped you lose some weight than (if you had no idea what is was supposed to be for) you are to say “Well it didn’t affect my weight, but I found myself stopping smoking.”
The suggestion given with the title/aim of the track, accompanied by believable pseudo-science and the expectancy created (we all know the power of expectancy) all potentially combines to deliver the outcome suggested.
I wonder… If I gave that audio programme, designed to help someone lose weight, that had binaural beats on it to create that effect, but did not tell anyone what it was for, just asked them to report their findings… How many do you think would be able to know what the track was aimed at doing?
I’d suggest that if you find binaural beats useful in some way, then keep using them for that. When former students and other hypnotherapists tell me they use binaural beats music to help clients be induced into hypnosis, I have no issue with that, the fact they believe in it, that it helps create confidence in them when doing hypnosis, thus developing congruence too, heck, there is nothing wrong with that.
That said, there is no evidence that binaural beats does actually induce hypnosis in the way some people claim it does… Certainly no difference than any other piece of music anyway.