The human mind is a very powerful thing. It can be trained through puzzle games and brain teasers. It can be tricked through illusions. And, according to some people, it can also be gradually tuned using an interesting technique called binaural beats, which we’ve covered before here at MakeUseOf. Justin’s review of Gnaural is another good example.
What all of these have in common is that through some external stimuli, over time you can somehow influence the functioning of your brain. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work in theory. In practice, it’s a whole different story. Claims about the ability of classical music or “brain training” videos to increase the intelligence of toddlers abound, but to date not a single person has been able to scientifically prove that those external stimuli really have any influence on the normal brain development of a child.
That influence was known as the “Mozart Effect”, from a study published in Nature in 1993 by Psychologist Frances Rauscher. The study set off a flurry of products promising to raise the IQ of any baby that came in contact with some video or CD filled with classical tunes. The debate went on for years as to whether the effect was actually real, and as late as 2007, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany performed a decisive study and found that the effect does not exist.
What does exist, more than ever, is the human desire to influence fate through some kind of external manipulation. Why leave the future of a person’s IQ to natural genetics and human development, when you can influence it with music? Well – the same can be said for the modern-day phenomenon of binaural beats. People are using binaural beats in droves to accomplish all sorts of things – from better relaxation to better concentration, and even to simply get high. I’m totally serious.
Test Binaural Beats to Improve Concentration
When I previously wrote about binaural therapy apps for Android, I didn’t just write about them, I actually tried all of them – and continued testing them out for some time. I’ve always been into using meditation for relaxation and to remove stress, and binaural beats went right in line with that. The theory behind them seemed fairly solid, and I’d appreciate anything that would accelerate that wonderful feeling that prolonged meditation can create when it’s done right.
What are binaural beats? They are essentially sounds of different frequencies that play in each ear. The premise is that by playing a different frequency in the left ear and the right ear, the brain’s effort to sync up the two sounds into one perceived sound eventually “tunes” the brain to operate at a mental state within that range. The makers of binaural beat products tweak each frequency range to create a sort of “resonant frequency” in the brain that matches known mental wave pattern frequencies for things like concentration, relaxation, and excitement.
In order to test binaural beats theory, I decided to do a personal experiment of my own – completely unscientific, mind you – to see if binaural beats would improve my own concentration. The concentration test that I used was an Android game called Bubble Bust.
Bubble Bust is a typical bubble shooter game – where you launch bubbles toward the like colors in order to pop those bubbles. If the lowest bubble touches the blue line at the bottom of the screen, it’s game over. First, I did a few trial runs of the game just so that I could get used to the controls and warm up a bit. After the training sessions, I launched into the “control” run – simply playing the game in my normal mental state.
During this control run, playing to the best of my ability, I hit a score of 39,750 in the first level.
Continuing on to level two, I achieved a score of 56,500 points. As you can see, each round sets the highest score – in this case the only score so far – as the “best” score for the game. This will make it easy to see, later on, whether my next tests through the game beat my old score.
I blasted through level 3 with a cool 74,700 points.
Finally, finished up level 4 accomplishing 62,310 points.
Once I had my baseline scores set for how I play the game under my normal abilities and concentration levels, I went into my room, shut the door, and launched an Android binaural beats app called Binaural Beat Therapy. This app offers frequency settings for “Highest mental activity”.
I affixed my earphones, laid down on the bed, launched the frequency therapy session and closed my eyes. After about three minutes, I started feeling that surreal “resonant” frequency in the middle of my head. The app screen shows flashing red lights over a black screen, and shows the current frequency settings for the left and right ears.
The full session in the app is 14 minutes or so. I relaxed and let the frequency fill my entire head. One thing I have to say about binaural therapy – whether it really works for improving brain function or not – is that it definitely creates a very real “buzz” after using it for a long while. It’s a very weird feeling – and after you take the earphones away, you’ll still hear a weird ringing frequency in your head for a few minutes.
After two full sessions of listening to the “highest mental activity” therapy, I went back to the same room where I last played the game, and launched the therapy session a third time, figuring that the frequency would maintain my brain in its peak performance state.
With the binaural beat running into my ears, I launched the bubble blaster game once again. I played level one to the best of my ability, and reached a score of 35,000 – almost five thousand short of my “non-therapy” score.
This surprised me, because I really felt like the binaural therapy had done “something”, but at the same time, I found it hard to concentration on the game with the binaural beats going on in my ears. I continued on into level two, and once again fell short – 400 points short of my initial score to be exact.
Motivated to prove that binaural beats work, I launched into level 3 and will all of my effort, concentration and willpower, tried my best to beat my old level 3 score. Once again, I fell short – this time by 5,900 points.
Finally, after putting everything I had into level 4, I hit a score of 63,700, beating my old score by 1,390.
I was starting to wonder whether maybe the real effects of binaural beats take effect after the therapy is over and not so much during a therapy session. To test this out, I turned off the binaural frequencies that had been going on in my ears for about 45 minutes at this point. I could still hear the phantom frequency in my head – a very weird feeling.
I launched into another round of the game. Once again, I failed to beat my best scores. I managed to beat my initial score in round two by 3,700 points.
Feeling like I had discovered the secret of binaural beat therapy, I launched into round 3, sure that I would blow my old score right out of the water. I didn’t. Like a trooper, I launched into level four with everything I was worth. I felt focused, fast, and quick-witted. I was positive that I was going to blow all old scores away. What happened?
The bubbles hit the blue line, and I completely failed to complete the level at all.
In all honesty, the results of this little personal experiment surprised me. Just given the feeling after a binaural beats session, I really expected to see some sort of positive results afterwards. True, this test was only for concentration – I did nothing to test the beats that supposedly can create feelings of relaxation, a better memory, or better sleep. However, given my results above, I am moving a little bit further onto the skeptical side of things regarding binaural beats.
With that said, the one thing I can personally attest to after I test binaural beats and feel the effects, is that long sessions listening to binaural beats can definitely create sort of a “high” that lasts during the session, as well as lasting effects for about 10 to 15 minutes afterwards. Whether there are any actual effects on the functioning of the mind? I say the jury is still out.
Have you ever tested binaural beat therapy? What have your experiences been like? Share your own personal thoughts and experiences about binaural beats in the comments section below!
Image credits: Yoga Man in Lotus Pose