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.
It urks me when pseudo science is used to mesmerize the masses. Just be honest, after all, what hypnosis does is fabulous enough without trying to supersize it!
Thanks Debbie, really good hearing from you. It’s been a while.
Take care and best wishes, A.
Great blog post, Adam.
I’ve been interested in this subject for a long time. Way back when I was writing about health and alternative health for publications, I wrote this:
It talks about entering different states of meditation but does go into the whole binaural beat thing towards the end. Even though the article was edited, I have to admit that I can no longer stand by some of the things I’ve written in that article.
For a start, I allowed the following to stand in the article:
“Studies have shown that Holosync audio tones raise the levels of hormones DHEA (which acts as a buffer against stress) and Melatonin (a hormone which helps create restful sleep states) in the bloodstream.”
I have no evidence that such studies have not shown such things but I do have my personal doubts. It may well be that, in some listeners, this audio technology creates or stimulates such things. These doubts may also be motivated by the fact the guy behind the Holosync stuff appears on one of the most laughable movies ever (The Secret) and, in my personal opinion, spends a lot of time mistaking coincidence for the law of attraction.
I listened to one track of the Holosync meditation program (first level) and, whilst I did feel light headed for a bit, all that happened to me was a general feeling of depression. I’m not saying the meditation caused that. I’m saying that’s what happened to me.
Our mutual friend, Glenn Harrold, has a new hypnosis CD called: “Be Happy”. I’m sure it’s a great CD but I was rather startled by these words from the sales page for that product:
“The recording combines a powerful hypnosis session and a unique sound frequency, which is said to heal DNA, open your heart and induce feelings of peace. This special combination make for an amazingly powerful recording.”
I don’t know if binaural beats are being used in this recording. And, to be fair, the sales page says that such things are said to be benefits of such a sound frequency rather than stating directly that they actually are. But still. A sound frequency that can heal my DNA? What’s wrong with my DNA in the first place? And I assume “open my heart” is not meant in a literal sense?
The binaural beats thing is a big industry at the moment. And some people do seem to be getting some great results out of using such MP3 and CD programmes. I think the Holosync one has different levels that go on for about 10 years.
Having used and reviewed quite a few of these binaural beat recordings I think and feel that there’s an attempted fusion between two S’s but they forgot the existence of the third S. They are trying to merge science with spirituality but they’ve forgotten the suggestion part.
Personally, I think anyone considering buying any binaural beat recording or meditation series should take a look at this blog post first.
Marty, thank you for your valued contribution once again. Really appreciated.
Great article Adam. I’ve used binaural beats (and recently Isochronic “pulsed” sounds) for quite some time now. While they may not be really good for hypnosis, I find that they are excellent for really intense visualization. Once an audio track (in my opinion) starts to head into theta inducing sounds it gets too hard to actively visualize, as everything seems to become fast paced and random.
Either way, great Article.
Awesome article on a subject that fascinates me, not least of all because I have been using binaural beats (and associated entrainment technologies) with myself and others to great effect.
However, I have some criticism of your article. Whilst it is certainly true that certain frequencies do not necessarily = a particular state, it IS true that certain frequencies are associated with certain states, and, under the right conditions, using entrainment to reach such frequencies may lead one into the desired state. But frequency aside, one of the things that entrainment does (and which scientific research seems to agree on) is that, whatever the frequencies, the act of entrainment does cause a synchronisation between the hemispheres. Now whilst this is not necessarily a hypnotic or meditative state, it is (according to research) one of the phenomena measured in meditative states.
So, my point is, it may be inaccurate for companies such as Holosync to advertise their products with the slogan “meditate deeper than a zen monk”, if a beginning meditator were to practise a meditative pracise WHILST LISTENING to entrainment (binaural or isochronic) they would indeed increase the chances of one of the phenomena found in meditative states; hemispheric synchonisation, thus leading to deeper and more profound states of meditation. Full brain synchrony and also certain brain patterns can takes years of practise for a meditator to reach. However, with entrainment, these can be reached in minutes.
Now I know your article appears to attack the legendary Binaural beats, so I did some research on your claims and found you appear to be vindicated. The research IS contradictory for binaural beats. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t work. Science usually looks for a repeatable or robust effect and sometimes it finds it. However, human-beings sometimes respond to some things whilst others do not. So I’d say don’t give up on binaural beats people; for some people, like me, they really, really work.
Also, i found during my researches that another form of entrainment using sound (called Isochronic beats) got different results than binaural beats, and in double blind studies was found to produce a stronger and more reliable effect than binaural beats, one that researchers seem to be able to accept as NOT a placebo. So, you weren’t exactly correct. Entrainment IS possible using sound. Also, I use a Procyon Mind machine, and photic stimulation is known to evoke cortical stimulation much faster than sound. I think you need to clarify your position maybe on the phenomenon of brain entrainment, because your article gave me the impression that your saying that NONE of this stuff is real and is all merely placebo. If so, you appear to be wrong. 😉
Btw I know a few people (one being a client of mine) who tried clinical hypnotherapy and other modalities with limited success, but claim they were cured using brainwave entrainment CDs.
Thank you for this interesting article which motivated me to research my legendary friend Binaural Beat, which for a moment had me in a strange kind of shock, until I discovered you were only half right, and also led me to a more accurate appraisal of entrainment technologies in general.
What research is supporting and substantiating your claims of “a more accurate appraisal” then Jamie? – please support your argument with more than just seemingly opinionated claims and stories of how you found out “I appear to be wrong” through surfing the internet. What research exactly?
Also, offering up subjective anecdotal claims is hardly proper empirical evidence, is it?
Finally, as per my article ending… When given a particular title to listen to without knowing what it is for and without it being framed as anything in particular, do you honestly think a binaural beats track is going to deliver the specific change it promises? If so, please explain how that happens.
I am not disputing that they work for some people – and if anyone does find them to work, please carry on, I am delighted for you. However, I dispute how and why they work. I am disputing the pseudoscientific claims made to support them in how they are marketed. They are incorrect and not supported by robust evidence.
All that said, I thank you very much for your contribution and interest here.
With my very best wishes, Adam.
Very interesting article. I am in the process of making up some CD’s and MP3’s for clients and have been doing quite a lot of reading into the entire subject. Its a very interesting one. Thanks for your post.
Thank you for taking the time to say so Adam, best wishes to you, A.
Loved the article. I will have to state from first hand experience that yes binaural beats can induce hypnosis and are especially useful for self hypnosis sessions as well. I use them all the time. I like theta and delta combination creates a good suggestible state.
Thanks for the anecdotal evidence Chad.
Really old thread this but I would like to say that a way that frequencies affect a person is pretty unknown but if you want a little example think of frequencies as musical notes…which they are…what happens when two or more of these frequencies are placed together – they form a chord …Now on a universal level most people react to a chord in the same way ..i.e a diminished chord commonly used for horror soundtracks creates a very tense unlikable feeling ….A minor chord invokes a sad melancholy feel where as a major chord is an upbeat positive type sound..
Now no-one explains why these combos of frequencies make a person feel in these ways It’s unexplainable ….but they do
So just because the science isn’t there to back it up doesn’t mean it doesn’t work….I’ve worked with sound for 30 years now and to me Binaural beats work very well but is like someone saying the same word over and over again ..which can cause the mind to enter a hypnogogic state…combinations of frequencies ie chords used in specific orders however is like someone telling a story using sound it keeps the listener focused on the story at hand and stops the mind rebelling and entering a hypnogogic state….it depends what you Want to use it for…
I really appreciate what you have written here, thank you for taking the time to do so.
I conceptualise hypnosis primarily in non-state terms; in my books, research and training courses, I tend to support the more evidence based sociocognitive perspective and conceptualisation of hypnosis. SO hypnosis is not really something I describe as a state but more of a cognitive skill requiring active participation of the individual, and them not just being a passive recipient of hypnosis.
With that in mind, whilst I agree with most of what you have written, I do not really see how it has a great deal to do with hypnosis.
Best wishes, Adam.