The Sound of Science: Results & Explanation

First of all a big thank you to everyone who took part in this little experiment. Secondly, sorry this post is a little later than I originally said it would be.

I was inspired to try this after listening to the sound and reading about what its effects should be. I was surprised to find that it’s effects worked on me, but I was curious as to whether that was the placebo effect because I knew what was supposed to happen. So that was the motivation for the experiment. The results were very interesting, 21 votes were recorded and were as follows:

What Effect Did the Sound Have On You?

None – 6 – 29%

Made me feel energised – 8 – 38%

Made me feel strange – 6 – 29%

Made me feel sleepy – 1 – 5%

But, what was the sound? Well, this experiment looked at the effects of binaural beats. An EEG detects different frequency waves in the brain during different mental states. The theory of binaural beats is that by listening to a particular frequency the brain enters the state of mind corresponding tp the EEG , as below:

> 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
4–7 Hz Theta waves deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

The sound in the experiment was a Theta wave. Therefore, should have created feelings of being tired  and sleepiness. The poll on my original post found very different results with feeling “energised” the most popular feeling due to the sound and feeling “sleepy” the least popular.

This is obviously not a 100% accurate study. I have no idea how long the people who voted listened for, what they listened with (supposedly headphones makes the effect much more pronounced) or what environment they were in. As a result, with a small sample size and these big unknowns the inverse of the expected results is, ironically, not unexpected!

There have been lots of suggested (and unproven) uses and effects of binaural beats including improving memory, sporting performance, stopping smoking, dieting help and tackling erectile dysfunction. Some have even referred to it as an “auditory alternative medicine”! Even more bizarrely some people are claiming that this technology can be used to create drug like effects known as “i-dosing”. The effects of these sounds are still being studied and their actual effects is hotly debated with some maintaining that it is all placebo.

To me, without being able to find sufficient research on the effects of the sounds, I find it hard to draw a conclusion about the effects. I am willing to accept that binaural sounds may have a real effect on alertness. However, the more outlandish claims are really just ridiculous, and should be ignored.

To see an alarmist US news report on “i-doping” watch this video (sorry about the poor syncing of the audio):

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6 thoughts on “The Sound of Science: Results & Explanation

  1. I haven’t taken part in the experiment but, when reading the post, I thought that I do feel energised when I meditate. Just wanted to share that personal observation.

    A question: is NREM sleep (repairing and regenerating sleep) really incompatible with the emotional answer “energised”? This is the second post I read at your blog and… I I like it. =:o)

  2. It sounded like being in an MRI machine. The MRI techs always tell me to try to sleep and that some people do. However, it’s too loud to sleep so I just spend the time bored. The sound in your experiment had no effect on me, similar to how an MRI makes me feel.

  3. I can’t say I felt any effect, though I didn’t listen to it through headphones. I also didn’t listen to the full ten minutes; it’s possible that the grating tone provokes an immediate feeling of discomfort (hence the energised feel; I want to get away from this!) but if left on for longer it might be more soothing.

    Hmmm… dissertation topic? Haha.

  4. Well this sound is basically agressive , monotone and annoying because completly previsible and as is based on hi frequency is ( i didn t heard it with headphone cause mine are realy chip and have relativly good speakers)

    Anyway I ahve like this post ,,, cause I have some experiment in freeparty (acid techno ) during 1994 to 1995. Eperiment was to go at party and take effectiv LSD dose ( it was suppose to be around 2×400 microgram) and then dance down loud speaker with electronic beat untill the effect is over, that s mean a lot of time… up to 20 hours full on tripping….. Well I was twenty and with crazy friends we made this kind experiment …

    Interaction with electronic music using sometime this kind of binaureal beat and entheogenic substance… I can tell u this a kind of experience u can t abuse… But very interresting, cognitive empiric experience….

    After what the state trans inducing dance and repetitive beat is very common un human activity and a researched effect on the brain activity, usinf or not sucstance…

  5. That was really interesting. I missed the vote but listened to the recording anyway – I found it mildly addictive, to be honest. And I hate noise. I don’t even listen to music. I’d think that Theta waves could have an energizing effect if someone is experiencing stress to a level of exhaustion. Maybe.

  6. Pingback: The Sound of Science: An Experiment « B Good Science Blog

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