A Solution for Multitasking?

The research on multitasking and what it does to our brains shows that it is really quite problematic. It overloads our sensory systems, induces negative mental and physiological conditions and reduces accuracy and effectiveness of work.

Peter Bregman recommends ways to overcome the problem of switchtasking in his book titled “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Your Distraction” but the fact remains that retraining the mind to “unitask” isn’t easy.

So if you need to focus intently on a single task, such as learning or a detailed project, there’s a tool you may find helpful.

The Phenomenon

The Binaural Beats phenomenon of sound induced brain synchronization was discovered in 1839 by Prussian physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.

He found that when two different specific frequencies — known as Binaural Beats —are played through headphones, the brain  produce its own, imagined tone. The area of the brain that controls aspects of three-dimensional sound perception, the superior olivary nucleus, bridges the difference between the varying frequencies in with a common third tone in an attempt to normalize this audio into something we can understand.  Strangely, each person hears the “third tone” differently. People with Parkinson’s disease can’t hear it at all; women will hear different tones as they move through their menstrual cycle.

 In the early 1970s, scientist Gerald Oster confirmed, using fMRIs, that Binaural Beats didn’t just affect the brain but the neurological system as well as other parts of the body.

Since then, Binaural Beats have been clinically shown to physically affect the listener’s brain and body, even triggering the pituitary gland to flood the body with good-feeling hormones like dopamine. They can be mentally and physically beneficial, and have been claimed to reduce anxiety and to provide other health benefits such as control over pain.

Brainwave Entrainment

Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain through the entrainment of brainwaves, which Wikipedia explains as follows:

If different pure tones (sinusoidal signals with different frequencies) are presented to each ear, there will be time dependent phase and time differences between both ears (see figure).

When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to the delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma range of brainwave frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to or move towards the beat frequency. For example, if a 315 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 325 Hz one into the left ear, the brain is entrained towards the beat frequency 10 Hz, in the alpha range. Since alpha range is associated with relaxation, this has a relaxing effect or if in the beta range, more alertness. An experiment with binaural sound stimulation using beat frequencies in the Beta range on some participants and Delta/Theta range in other participants, found better vigilance performance and mood in those on the awake alert state of Beta range stimulation.

Binaural beat stimulation has been used fairly extensively to induce a variety of states of consciousness, and there has been some work done in regards to the effects of these stimuli on relaxation, focus, attention, and states of consciousness.

Beneficial Effects

Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40 Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
13–39 Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia
7–13 Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, Dreams
8–12 Hz Mu waves Sensorimotor rhythm Mu_rhythm, Sensorimotor_rhythm
4–7 Hz Theta waves deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

By lowering the brain frequency, the listener can benefit from relaxation, reduction of anxiety, improved  concentration, and sleep induction. Other alleged uses include reducing learning time and sleeping needs (theta waves are thought to improve learning, since children, who have stronger theta waves, and remain in this state for a longer period of time than adults, usually learn faster than adults, and some people report that half an hour in the theta state can reduce sleeping needs up to four hours, similar to achieving a theta state in meditation.  Alpha-theta brainwave training has also been successful in the treatment of addictions.

A study of Delta binaural beat technology over a period of 60 days resulted in reports of significant decrease in trait anxiety, an increase in quality of life, and a decrease in insulin-like growth factor-1 and dopamine.

Overcome Sensory Overload

As mentioned above, one  claimed effect is enhanced learning ability. It has been claimed that induced alpha brain waves enable students to assimilate more information with greater long term retention, and more recently, theta brain waves has been linked to enhanced behavioral learning, as theta patterns(4–7 Hz)  in the brain are  associated with increased receptivity for learning and decreased filtering by the left hemisphere. Biofeedback training suggests that people can learn to increase a specific component of their EEG activity, and that such enhanced activity may facilitate a working memory task and to a lesser extent focused attention.

Free Binaural Beats

You need to use headphones for bianural beats to work. There are numerous online and mobile sources where you can listen to Binaural Beats. You might start with this one, some of the ones here . There are sites like this with an embedded player, and there’s even a forum for binaural beat enthusiasts here with more files for download.

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