Poznań researchers show that binaural beats do not help in learning

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

Researchers from the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań have shown that commonly used sound impulses planned to stimulate cognitive processes actually impair them.

Their research results have just been published in Scientific Reports.

Research by the team of Dr. Michał Klichowski concerned acoustic stimuli used to improve cognitive processes, including the so-called binaural beats, popular on public Internet platforms.

'In simple terms, this form of brain stimulation involves delivering tonal sounds of different frequencies to each ear, interacting to produce the sensation of binaural beats. The frequencies are selected so that their difference mirrors the desired frequency of the brain waves. People all over the globe listen to recordings in their homes when they are studying or doing other cognitive activities,’ says Klichowski in a university press release. 

For two years, Dr. Klichowski and Dr. Agnieszka Kruszwick from the Faculty of Educational Studies, Dr. Andrzej Wicher and Dr. Roman Gołębiewski from the Chair of Acoustics experimented with natural conditions, demonstrating that such forms of acoustic brain stimulation were counterproductive - instead of helping people perform cognitive tasks, they dramatically impaired cognitive performance.

In this experiment, 1,000 people performed challenging cognitive tasks in their own home, in some cases listening to specific sounds. These were various sounds, e.g. music, noise, but also binaural beats.

It turned out that listening to binaural beats significantly worsened performance on these tasks.

According to the researchers, this is the first study on the usage of binaural beats at home and further research is needed. However, it can already be concluded that applying binaural beaters to ourselves may not only be unhelpful, but also harmful. The research says that this could be the outcome of poorly chosen frequencies or excessive exposure time. It is also possible that there is an unknown neuronal mechanism behind this inverted effect of binaural beats.

Researchers at the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience have put forward several hypotheses. 'One of them suggests that binaural beats somehow interfere with brain waves and lower their frequency so that brain activity is mismatched with the task at hand. The second hypothesis refers to the fact that most of our daily cognitive tasks are highly variable and, therefore, it is not advisable to modulate only one frequency when performing them. Binaural beats thus may temporarily block brainwave frequencies specific to performing a particular part of the task,’ Klichowski says.

Na zdjęciu: Michał Klichowski  Fot. Adrian Wykrota
Michał Klichowski  Credit: Adrian Wykrota

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