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The impact of binaural beats on creativity

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Human creativity relies on a multitude of cognitive processes, some of which are influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine. This suggests that creativity could be enhanced by interventions that either modulate the production or transmission of dopamine directly, or affect dopamine-driven processes. In the current study we hypothesized that creativity can be influenced by means of binaural beats, an auditory illusion that is considered a form of cognitive entrainment that operates through stimulating neuronal phase locking. We aimed to investigate whether binaural beats affect creative performance at all, whether they affect divergent thinking, convergent thinking, or both, and whether possible effects may be mediated by the individual striatal dopamine level. Binaural beats were presented at alpha and gamma frequency. Participants completed a divergent and a convergent thinking task to assess two important functions of creativity, and filled out the Positive And Negative Affect Scale-mood State questionnaire (PANAS-S) and an affect grid to measure current mood. Dopamine levels in the striatum were estimated using spontaneous eye blink rates (EBRs). Results showed that binaural beats, regardless of the presented frequency, can affect divergent but not convergent thinking. Individuals with low EBRs mostly benefitted from alpha binaural beat stimulation, while individuals with high EBRs were unaffected or even impaired by both alpha and gamma binaural beats. This suggests that binaural beats, and possibly other forms of cognitive entrainment, are not suited for a one-size-fits-all approach, and that individual cognitive-control systems need to be taken into account when studying cognitive enhancement methods.
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HUMAN NEUROSCIENCE
ORIGINAL RESEARCH ARTICLE
published: 14 November 2013
doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00786
The impact of binaural beats on creativity
Susan A. Reedijk, Anne Bolders and Bernhard Hommel*
Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands
Edited by:
Mic helle W. Voss, University of Iowa,
USA
Reviewed by:
Kyle E. Mathewson, University of
Illinois, USA
Hyunkyu Lee, Brain Plasticity Institute,
USA
*Correspondence:
Bernhard Hommel, Cognitive
Psychology Unit, Institute for
Psychological Research and Leiden
Institute for Brain and Cognition,
Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg
52, 2333 AK Leiden, Netherlands
e-mail: hommel@fsw.leidenuniv.nl
Human creativity relies on a multitude of cognitive processes, some of which are
influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine. This suggests that creativit y could be
enhanced by interventions that either modulate the production or transmission of
dopamine directly, or affect dopamine-driven processes. In the current study we
hypothesized that creativity can be influenced by means of binaural beats, an auditory
illusion that is considered a form of cognitive entrainment that operates through
stimulating neuronal phase locking. We aimed to investigate whether binaural beats
affect creative performance at all, whether they affect divergent thinking, convergent
thinking, or both, and whether possible effects may be mediated by the individual
striatal dopamine level. Binaural beats were presented at alpha and gamma frequency.
Participants completed a divergent and a convergent thinking task to assess two
important functions of creativity, and filled out the Positive And Negative Affect Scale—
mood State questionnaire (PA NAS-S) and an affect grid to measure current mood.
Dopamine levels in the striatum were estimated using spontaneous eye blink rates
(EBRs). Results showed that binaural beats, regardless of the presented frequency, can
affect divergent but not convergent thinking. Individuals with low EBRs mostly benefitted
from alpha binaural beat stimulation, while individuals with high EBRs were unaffected
or even impaired by both alpha and gamma binaural beats. This suggests that binaural
beats, and possibly other forms of cognitive entrainment, are not suited for a one-size-fits-
all approach, and that individual cognitive-control systems need to be taken into account
when studying cognitive enhancement methods.
Keywords: creativity, binaural beats, gamma, alpha, cognitive enhancement
INTRODUCTION
Creativity is an important skill in the human cognitive reper-
toire, it is useful in art and science and essential in d ay-to-
day life. Unfortunately, however, research into creativity is rather
cluttered and mechanistic models about how creativity might
work are not available (Dietrich and Kanso, 2010). It is thus
not surpr ising that there is no single, widely accepted definition
of creativity. What can be said, though, is that many cognitive
processes seem to be involved, and that sub-functions underlying
creativity depend on both state (Baas et al., 2008; Davis, 2009)and
trait (Akbari Chermahini and Hommel, 2010) characteristics. Of
all the processes involved in creativit y, Guilford (1950, 1967)
identifies divergent and convergent thinking as its two main
ingredients. Together with insight (a possible sub-component of
convergent thinking; see Bowden et al., 2005), these are nowa-
days still considered the most important processes in creativity
(Dietrich and Kanso, 2010). Accordingly, it was these two pro-
cesses that we considered in the present study.
Both divergent and convergent thinking have been assumed
to be influenced by positive mood (e.g., Baas et al., 2008;
Davis, 2009), but the mechanism underlying this impact remains
unclear. Based on the observation that schizophrenic patients,
who suffer from an overdose of the neurotransmitter dopamine
(for a review, see Davis et al., 1991), sometimes exhibit
extraordinary creative performances (Keefe and Magaro, 1980;
Nelson and Rawlings, 2008), some authors have assumed a strong
link between creativity and dopamine (Eysenck, 1993). Indeed,
positive-going mood is accompanied by phasic changes in the
production and availability of dopamine in the mesolimbic and
nigrostriatal systems of the brain (Ashby et al., 1999), which
again is likely to facilitate cognitive search operations and related
processes underlying creative behavior (Akbari Chermahini and
Hommel, 2010; Hommel, 2012). If so, factors or techniques that
are likely to modulate dopamine production or transmission
could be suspected to have an impact on cognitive operations
underlying creativity.
One phenomenon that has been suspected to propagate cre-
ativity is known under the name of binaural beats”, an auditory
illusion that can be considered a kind of cognitive or neural
entrainment (Vernon, 2009; Turow and Lane, 2011). This phe-
nomenon has encouraged sweeping claims about mind enhance-
ment, and some websites even went as far as calling the illusion
a digital drug”. While binaural beats indeed seem to exert some
effect on cognitive functioning and mood (Lane et al., 1998), and
on neural firing patterns in the brain (Kuwada et al., 1979; Karino
et al., 2006; Pratt et al., 2009; but see Vernon et al., 2012), it is as
yet unclear how they do so. The binaural-beat illusion arises when
two tones of a slightly different frequency are each presented to
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Reedijk et al. Binaural beats and creativity
different ears. For instance, when a tone of 335 Hz is presented
totherightearandatoneof345Hztotheleftear,thisresults
in a subjectively perceived binaural beat of 10 Hz. Hence, instead
of hearing two different tones, most individuals will hear just one
tone that fluctuates in frequency or loudness: a beat (Oster, 1973).
How exactly the brain produces the perception of these beats
is unclear, but the reticular activation system and the inferior
colliculus seem to play a role (Kuwada et al., 1979; McAlpine et al.,
1996; Turow and Lane, 2011). In animals, binaural-beat produc-
ing stimulus conditions have been shown to produce particular
neural patterns of phase locking, or synchronization, beginning
in the auditory system and propagating to the inferior colliculus
(Kuwada et al., 1979; McAlpine et al., 1996). Even though the
neural response to objectively presented beats is stronger, binaural
beats seem to elicit similar neural responses in both humans and
animals (Kuwada et al., 1979; McAlpine et al., 1996; Schwarz and
Taylor, 2005; Karino et al., 2006), suggesting that the illusion
arises through pathw ays normally associated with binaural sound
detection (Kuwada et al., 1979; Pratt et al., 2010). As in humans
binaural beats have been found to affect cognitive functioning
and mood (Lane et al., 1998; Vernon, 2009), and responses to
binaural beats are detectable in the human EEG (Schwarz and
Taylor, 2005; Pratt et al., 2009), it can be assumed that neuronal
phase locking spreads from the auditory system and the inferior
colliculus over the cortex. A spreading pattern of neuronal acti-
vation and synchronization might affect short- and long-distance
communication in the brain, processes which depend on neuronal
synchronization and, presumably, on particular neurotransmitter
systems (Schnitzler and Gross, 2005), thus affecting cognitive
processing.
If binaural beats affect cognition through neural synchro-
nization, it is possible that the frequency of the beat matt ers.
For instance, short-range communication within brain areas
is often associated with neural synchronization in the gamma
frequency, while long-range communication is associated with
neuronal phase locking in the slower frequency bands (von Stein
and Sarnthein, 2000; Schnitzler and Gross, 2005). Moreover, a
variety of frequency bands have been considered to represent the
“messenger frequency” of cognitive-control signals. For instance,
synchronization in the gamma frequency range seems to play a
role in the top-down control of memory retrieval (Keizer et al.,
2009), which should be relevant for many creativity tasks. Also
of inter est, phase locking in the alpha band has been associated
with lower cortical arousal in general (Fink and Neubauer, 2006)
and enhanced top-down control in creativit y-related performance
in particular (von Stein and Sarnthein, 2000; Fink et al., 2009).
Especially divergent thinking seems to be associated with alpha
wave synchronization (Fink et al., 2006, 2009 ). It could therefore
be reasoned that inducing a state of lower cortical arousal by
presenting people with alpha frequency binaural beats temporar-
ily increases their performance on a divergent thinking task.
Given that the available evidence highlights the alpha and gamma
bands as possible messenger frequencies of control signals in
creativity-related tasks, we investigated whether binaural beats
presented at these two frequencies might affect performance
in convergent- and divergent-thinking tasks—as compared to a
control condition.
Performance in creativity tasks does not only depend on
current states but is also affected by trait variables. As sug-
gested by Eysenck (1993)andAshby et al. (1999), creative per-
formance seems to depend on an individual’s basic supply of
(striatal) dopamine. This suggestion fits with recent ideas about
the interaction of frontal and striatal dopaminergic pathways in
generating cognitive control. According to Cools and d’Esposito
(2009), the frontal dopaminergic pathway (orig inating in the
Ventral Tegmental Area) supports focusing on the current task
while the striatal pathway (originating in the Substantia Nigra)
facilitates the mental flexibility and switching between mental
representations. Considering that this latter ability is particu-
larly relevant for divergent thinking , it is not surprising that
divergent thinking, but not convergent thinking, was found
to be related to the spontaneous eye-blink rate (EBR; Akbari
Chermahini and Hommel, 2010)—a clinical marker of striatal
dopaminergic functioning (Karson, 1983; Shukla, 1985; Taylor
et al., 1999).
Importantly for our study, markers of the individual striatal
dopamine level (EBR) do not only predict individual performance
in a divergent-thinking task, but also whether and how individuals
are affected by state variables. Only recently, Akbari Chermahini
and Hommel (2012) demonstrated that the creativity-enhancing
effect of positive mood was restricted to individuals with low
EBRs, i.e., low striatal dopamine levels. Indeed, tonic and phasic
effects of neurotransmitters have often been assumed to interact
in nonlinear fashions, in such a way that phasic changes can be
more easily detected or are otherwise more effective if combined
with a relatively low tonic baseline (e.g., Grace, 1991; Cohen et al.,
2002). If so, and assuming EBRs reflect a fairly stable baseline
level of tonic and phasic dopamine activity in the striatum, the
hypothetical creativity-enhancing impact of binaural beats would
be expected to be visible mainly in individuals with relatively
low EBRs. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing performance
in convergent- and divergent-thinking tasks, and beat-induced
changestherein,asafunctionoflowversushighEBR.
METHODS
Twenty-four first-year psychology or educational studies students
(22 female, 2 male; 17–25 years) of Leiden University participated
in exchange for course credit and/or pay. All participants had
normal or corrected-to-normal sight and normal hearing, and no
history of epileptic attacks or other neu ropsychological illnesses.
All participants were tested between 1 pm and 7 pm, and for each
participant all sessions took place at the same time of the day. This
was done to reduce variation due to normal daily fluctuations in
EBR, mood, and related variables.
After the study procedure was explained to them by the
experimenter, written informed consent was obtained from all
participants. In the case of one underage participant, written
informed consent was also obtained from the parents/caretakers.
Participants were not made aware of the goal of the study before-
hand, but all were debriefed after completing all sessions. The
study was approved by the Leiden University Ethics Committee
of the Institute of Psychology.
Participants came in for three sessions: one in which they were
exposed to alpha frequency (10 Hz) binaural beat stimuli (the
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Reedijk et al. Binaural beats and creativity
Alpha condition), one in which they were exposed to gamma
frequency (40 Hz) binaural beat stimuli (the Gamma condition),
and one in which they listened to a constant tone of 340 Hz (the
Control condition). The order of these three conditions and the
two creativity tasks was counterbalanced across participants by
means of a Latin square design. In every session a participant
would complete the same tasks in the same order but with
different items (see below) to avoid learning effects. The order of
the items within each session was the same for all participants.
Before starting the tasks, spontaneous EBRs were measured, and
participants listened to a 3 min sound file (inducing the b inaural
beats, or the control sound) during which they did not complete
any task. While the sound file continued to play, participants
then carried out the creativity tasks using pencil and paper. At
the beginning and end of the session participants’ positive (PA)
and negative affect (NA) was measured using the Positive And
Negative Affect Scale—mood State questionnaire (PANAS-S), to
assess possible mood changes over the session. To track possible
changes in mood valence and arousal during the session, partic-
ipants were also asked to rate their current mood on an affect
grid immediately after completing each task. Both of the mood
measures were completed on a computer. The task order for every
session can be seen in Figure 1.
AUDITORY STIMULI
Auditory stimulation was presented through in-ear headphones
(Etymotic Research ER-4B microPro), which provide 35 dB
external noise attenuation. All sound files (44 kHz, 16 bit) were
digitally generated in Audacity and played from the test computer
using E-Prime 2. Sound levels at output were calculated from
the voltages delivered at the earphone input as measured with
an oscilloscope (Type Tektronix TDS2002) and the earphone
efficiency as provided by the earphone manufacturer (180 dB
sound pressure le vel (SPL) for 1 Vrms in a Zwislocki coupler,
ER-4 datasheet, Etymotic Research, 1992). As beats are best
perceived with a carrier frequency between 300 and 600 Hz
(Licklider et al., 1950; Oster, 1973), both binaural beat conditions
(10 Hz and 40 Hz) were based upon a 340 Hz carrier frequency.
This 340 Hz carrier tone was presented to both ears in the control
condition. The alpha frequency (10 Hz) beat was generated by
presenting a tone of 335 Hz to the left ear and a tone of 345 Hz
to the right ear, while the gamma frequency (40 Hz) beat was
generated by presenting a tone of 320 Hz to the left ear and a
tone of 360 Hz to the right ear. In all conditions, white noise (20
FIGURE 1 | Diagram of the task order in every session. Participants
alwa ys completed the tasks in this order, regardless of beat frequency.
Whether a participant completed the alternate uses task (AUT) before the
remote associations task (RAT) (or vice versa) was randomized across
participants.
Hz–10 kHz band filtered) was added to the signal in both ears to
enhance the clarity of the beats (Oster, 1973).
EYE BLINK RATE (EBR)
Participants’ spontaneous EBRs were measured for 5 min at the
start of each session using a BioSemi ActiveTwo system (BioSemi
Inc., Amsterdam). During measurement of the blinks participants
were not presented with any auditory stimuli. Spontaneous EBR
was measured using six Ag/AgCL electrodes: two placed next to
the outer canthus of each eye (measuring saccades), and two
placed above and below the right eye (measuring the blink).
Two electrodes placed on the mastoids served as a linked online
reference. Participants were instructed to relax and look (but not
stare) straight ahead at a paper with a fixation cross that was taped
on the computer monitor. This monitor was turned off during
EBR measurement. As EBR is stable during the day but goes up in
the evening (after 8.30 pm; Barbato et al., 2000), participants were
never tested after 7 pm. Blinks were identified automatically, and
then manually checked for errors (such as noise segments wrongly
identified as blink) in BrainVision Analyzer. Individual EBR was
calculated by dividing the total amount of blinks during the 5 min
measurement period by 5.
DIVERGENT THINKING: ALTERNATE USES TASK (AUT)
In this task, participants were to name as many uses for certain
common household objects as possible. This task was scored on
four components: originality, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration.
However, as flexibility is most strongly and reliably connected to
EBR scores (Akbari Chermahini and Hommel, 2010), we focused
on this score, which reflects the number of different categories a
participant uses in his or her answer for each item. For example,
folding a hat of a paper or using it for origami counts as one
category (folding), whereas writing a note on it counts as another
(writing). We used a Dutch version of this task, which consisted
of six items: brick, shoe, paper, pen, bottle,andtowel (baksteen,
schoen, krant, pen, fles,andhanddoek, respectively). Per session,
participants were given two items to solve in 10 min.
CONVERGENT THINKING: REMOTE ASSOCIATIONS TASK (RAT)
In this task, participants were presented with three seemingly
unrelated words (e.g ., “market, “star” and hero”) for which they
hadtofindasinglecompoundwordthatcouldbeassociated
with all three of these words (in this case “super”; creating the
words “supermarket”, “superstar” and “superhero”). We used the
Dutch version of this task, which consists of a total of 30 items
(Cronbachs alpha = .85; Akbari Chermahini et al., 2012). As
our experiment consisted of three sessions per participant, we
divided this task into three versions of 10 items each (Cronbachs
alphas = .70, .67, and .70), matched by the items’ discrimination
value as reported in Akbari Chermahini et al. (2012). Participants
were given 4 min to complete the 10 items.
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE AFFECT SCHEDULE MOOD STATE
QUESTIONNAIRE (PANAS-S)
This self-report mood scale consists of 20 items that provide
a general measure of current mood in terms of PA and NA.
Participants were given 10 positive (for instance, “interested” or
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Reedijk et al. Binaural beats and creativity
“alert”) and 10 negative (for instance, “upset” or “guilty”) words,
and had to indicate how applicable a word was to their current
mood on a Likert scale between 1 (ver y little or not at all) and 5
(very or extremely). The PANAS-S was completed on a computer,
where participants used the mouse to select an option on the
Likert scale.
AFFECT GRID
Participants indicated their current pleasure and arousal level by
means of a computer mouse, which served to place a single cross
in an arousal × pleasure affect grid (Russell et al., 1989)presented
on a computer monitor. The 9 × 9 grid was composed of a
horizontal axis to code the current pleasure level (ranging from 1
[extremely unpleasant] on the left to 9 [extremely pleasant] on the
right) and a vertical axis to code the current arousal level (ranging
from 1 [low arousal] at the bottom to 9 [high arousal] at the top).
RESULTS
As a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) found no
differences in EBR between the three sessions, F(2, 46) = 1.77,
p = 0.18, we took the a verage across all three measures as an
estimate of the individual EBR. To test whether binaural beats
affected performance in the creativity tasks, repeated measures
ANOVAs with auditory stimulation (Alpha, Gamma, Control) as
within-participant factor were conducted.
The basic analysis of the AUT flexibility score (divergent think-
ing) showed no reliable effect, F(2,46)<1.However,addingthe
individual EBR as centered covariate (cf., van Breukelen and van
Dijk, 2007) rendered the effect highly reliable, F(2, 44) = 5.22,
p = 0.009, suggesting that the effect might be mediated by EBR.
This was confirmed by regression analyses relating the individual
Alpha benefit (performance in the Alpha condition minus per-
formance in the Control condition) and the individual Gamma
benefit (performance in the Gamma condition minus perfor-
mance in the Control condition) to individual EBR. As shown in
Figure 2, the relationships between both the Alpha benefit and
EBR, F(1, 22) = 9.71, p = 0.005, and the Gamma benefit and
EBR, F(1, 22) = 8.51, p = 0.008, followed highly reliable negative
linear trends, while the quadratic trends explain lesser variance:
F(2, 21) = 5.31, p = 0.014, and F(2, 21) = 4.23, p = 0.029, respec-
tively. Interestingly, the distribution clearly crosses the zero line,
suggesting that people with low EBRs (under 20 blinks per min)
mostly benefit from both alpha, and benefit or are not impaired
by gamma binaural beats, while people w ith higher EBRs do not
benefit or are even impaired by binaural beat stimulation.
For the RAT score (convergent thinking) neither the basic
ANOVA nor the ANCOVA with EBR as covariate yielded any
reliable effect, F(2, 46) < 1. These non-significant relationships
can be seen in Figure 3.
Given the assumption of a link between dopamine and mood
or affect, we also explored whether the changes in performance
were accompanied by changes in mood. T his did not seem to be
the case, however. For one, an (2 × 3) ANOVA of the NA score
of the PANAS-S before and after the three sessions did not reveal
any reliable effect, ps > .3. The same ANOVA of the PA PANAS-S
scores produced a significant effect of time point, F(1, 23) =
11.07, p = 0.003 (indicating a slight reduction of positive mood
from 29.9 to 28.3), but this effect did not interact with auditory
condition, p
> .18. The analysis of the affect grid data also found
no indication for condition-specific effects on average pleasure,
F(2, 46) < 1, or arousal, F(2, 46) < 1 scores.
DISCUSSION
The aim of this study was to investigate whether binaural
beats, a form of cognitive entrainment, affect people’s creative
performance, and whether such impact might be mediated by the
FIGURE 2 | Linear (solid line) and quadratic (dotted line) relationships
between AUT exibility benefit score from alpha frequency binaural
beats and EBR (left-hand graph), and AUT flexibility benefit score from
gamma frequency binaural beats and EBR (right-hand graph). Benefit
scores were calculated by subtracting performance in the control condition
from performance in the binaural beat condition (either alpha or gamma).
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Reedijk et al. Binaural beats and creativity
FIGURE 3 | Linear (solid line) and quadratic (dotted line) relationships
between RAT benefit score from alpha frequency binaural beats and EBR
(left-hand graph), and RAT benefit score from gamma frequency binaural
beats and EBR (right-hand graph). Benefit scores were calculated by
subtracting performance in the control condition from performance in the
binaural beat condition (either alpha or gamma).
individual striatal dopamine level, as assessed by means of EBR.
The outcome provides a straightforward picture.
First, we found no evidence for any influence of binaural beats
on convergent thinking, while divergent thinking was systemat-
ically affected depending on base-line EBR. This supports the
assumption that convergent thinking, and other kinds of highly
constrained top-down search processes, rely more on the frontal
part of the frontal-striatal interaction constituting cognitive con-
trol (in the sense of Cools and d’Esposito, 2009), while diver-
gent thinki ng, and other forms of mental flexibility, lean more
towar ds the striatal part (Akbari Cher mahini and Hommel, 2010;
Hommel, 2012). Moreover, the observation of a differential effect
on one of the two kinds of creative performance reinforces claims
that human creativity is not a unitary function but consists of
multiple components (Wallas, 1926; Guilford, 1967; Nijstad et al.,
2010).
Second, we could not find any difference between the Alpha
and the Gamma condition—both had the same kind and the
same degree of impact on divergent thinking. This suggests that
binaural beats do not so much trigger or facilitate a particular
neural synchronization processes but rather support neuronal
phase locking in general (Kuwada et al., 1979). For instance, they
might impose some temporal structure on neural processes and
thereby reduce cortical noise (Karino et al., 2006), which again
may make task-specific processes that rely on neural communi-
cation and/or synchronization more reliable. In which frequency
this temporal structure is operating might be less relevant.
Third, our findings clearly suggest that binaural beats do not
represent a suitable all-round tool for cognitive enhancement.
While participants with lower EBRs (20 blinks per min or lower)
showed clear beat-induced benefits in divergent thinking, binau-
ral b eats impaired the performance of individuals with higher
EBRs (20 blinks per min or higher; see Figure 2). As suspected,
this suggests that beat-induced cognitive enhancement depends
on the individual striatal dopamine level—an observation that
parallels Akbari Chermahini and Hommel’s (2012)findingof
equally selective mood effects on divergent thinking.
There are at least two possible, not mutually exclusive
explanations for this observation. First, there is evidence that
lower-than-average EBR levels are associated with less effec-
tive performance in divergent-thinking tasks, especially regard-
ing flexibility (Akbari Chermahini and Hommel, 2010). Even
though this difference just missed the significance criterion in
our study (in the control condition, the flexibility scores of the
low and high EBR groups were 10.58 and 12.83, respectively,
p = .08), individuals with rather low striatal dopamine levels
might have more room for improvement and are, thus, more
sensitive to cognitive-enhancement procedures. For instance, it
might be that binaural beats induce, or increase the size of
phasic dopamine bursts, which might have a stronger impact in
individuals with a relatively low tonic dopamine level. Individuals
with a more suitable dopamine level may not need these extra
or extra-sized bursts and may end up with more than optimal
cortical noise. This would also suggest that EBRs mainly reflect
tonic dopamine activity in the striatum, but this lies outside the
scope of the current study and, thus, remains speculation for
now.
Second, it might be that binaural beats do not operate directly
on the individual dopamine level, be it tonic or phasic. Note that
we did not find any systematic, beat-induced mood effects. To
the degree that changes in dopamine levels are accompanied by
changes in mood (Akbari Chermahini and Hommel, 2012), this
might suggest that binaural beats facilitated or enabled processes
that compensate for the individual lack of striatal dopamine. For
instance, it might be that dopamine is functional in driving neural
synchronization (Schnitzler and Gross, 2005). If so, a relatively
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.org November 2013 | Volume 7 | Article 786 | 5
Reedijk et al. Binaural beats and creativity
low level of striatal dopamine may thus make it more difficult
to set up synchronized neural states, and this difficulty may
somehow be overcome through other, compensatory processes
that are induced or facilitated by binaural beats. As speculated
earlier, binaural beats may increase the temporal structure of
idling neural activities and thereby reduce cortical noise, which
again might facilitate setting up synchronized states. Again, it is
conceivable that individuals with more optimal dopamine levels
do not need, or may even be impaired by this alternative way to
creat e the necessary synchronized states.
Irrespective of which of these two scenarios will turn out to
be more realistic, it is clear that binaural beats do not represent a
one-size-fits-all enhancement technique. They can be effective in
enhancing brainstorm-like creative thinking in individuals with
low striatal dopamine levels, but they can at the same time impair
performanceinexactlythesamekindoftaskinothers.Ontheone
hand, this calls for more care in the propagation of binaural beats
as a cognitive-enhancement method and a better understanding
of the underlying neural and cognitive mechanisms. On the other
hand, however, it also implies that previous failures to find pos-
itive effects of binaural beats on cognitive performance need not
be taken as evidence against the efficiency of the manipulation.
In fact, careful selection of individuals involving a systematic
evaluation of their cognitive control profiles is likely to yield
evidence of cognitive enhancement, even under conditions that
proved ineffective by previous research.
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Conflict of Interest Statement:The authors declare that the research was conducted
in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed
as a potential conflict of interest.
Received: 26 September 2013; accepted: 30 October 2013; published online: 14
November 2013.
Citation: Reedijk SA, Bolders A and Hommel B (2013) The impact of binaural beats
on creativity. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:786. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00786
This article was published in the Journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Copyright © 2013 Reedijk, Bolders, and Hommel. This is an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).
The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the
original author(s) or licensor a re credited and that the original publication in this
journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution
or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience www.frontiersin.org November 2013 | Volume 7 | Article 786 | 7
... Similarly, Weiland et al. (2011) also asserted the efficiency of BB audio in reducing anxiety. Alpha and gamma BB entrainment further improved divergent thinking and creativity (Reedijk et al., 2013). Even though some studies have suggested significant improvements on attention and memory tasks (Colzato et al., 2017;Kraus & Porubanovà, 2015;Ortiz et al., 2008), other researchers have not been able to establish the effectiveness of BB entrainment in related areas, especially in attentional tasks (Crespo et al., 2013;Kennel et al., 2010). ...
... Eight studies investigated the effect of BB stimulation on an individual's attentional capacities. These studies majorly emphasized attentional blink tasks (Reedijk et al., 2013;Ross & Lopez, 2020), dual-task paradigm (Hommel et al., 2016), and attentional capacities (Crespo et al., 2013;Engelbregt et al., 2021;Kennel et al., 2010). They were conducted with gamma, beta, alpha, and theta frequencies. ...
... The frequency ranged from four to 40 Hz. Four out of the eight studies conducted experiments with gamma BB (40 Hz), although with different durations (Colzato et al., 2017;Engelbregt et al., 2021;Reedijk et al., 2013;Ross & Lopez, 2020). The duration of each entrainment session lasted from three to 20 min. ...
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Binaural beats (BB) entrainment is an auditory perceptual occurrence that exists when two tones of separate frequencies are simultaneously presented to each ear. Research on BB entrainment has gained attention due to its ability to treat various conditions like anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD), etc. Even though research on BB entrainment suggests its efficiency in improving cognition among individuals, existing literature indicates mixed results in the cognitive domains of attention and memory. Thus, we conducted meta-analysis to examine the effect of BB intervention on memory and attention, respectively, in the current paper. We further performed a systematic review on the selected studies to report their variables, demographic characteristics of the participants, and outcomes to comprehensively position the research on BB intervention exclusively in the areas of memory and attention. Fifteen studies met our inclusion criteria. Based on 31 effect sizes, the results indicated an overall medium and significant effect size (g = 0.40). Findings from systematic review reveal conflicting results, especially concerning theta and beta's efficacy on memory (recall and recognition tasks) and attention-related tasks. The findings of the current paper add to the growing evidence that BB intervention improves attention and memory in humans. Since the findings suggest a near-moderate effect of BB interventions and mixed results in the systematic review, more research with robust study designs must explore its guiding principle and the expanding role of brainwaves in improving memory and attention in individuals. Such an intervention has important implications in both clinical and non-clinical settings.
... Reedijk et al. [75] observed that the alpha stimulation did not affect attentional blink, whereas the gamma entrainment decreased the attentional blink, suggesting that, unlike the original expectation, gamma stimulations might broaden the distribution of available focus (instead of inducing a stronger focus). Another study of Reedijk et al. [78] might suggest the same: they reported that the gamma stimulation might improve performance in a divergent (but not in a convergent) thinking task, perhaps because divergent thinking may benefit more from broadly distributed resources compared to convergent thinking [72]. The dual n-back task used in our study needs divided attention, and therefore, it might also benefit from a broader distribution of attentional and cognitive resources. ...
... On the other hand, the 10 Hz intervention might shift the attentional resources to the visuospatial modality, increasing cognitive persistence-indicated by the faster responses and increased hit rates, A ′ indices, and working memories in the visuospatial modality. Although our findings were in line with the three studies on cognitive flexibility [72,75,78], future studies are warranted to assess our speculation. ...
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Introduction: Binaural beats (BBs) are phantom sound illusions perceived when two sounds of slightly different frequencies are separately transmitted to the ears. It is suggested that some BB frequencies might entrain the brain and enhance certain cognitive functions such as working memory or attention. Nevertheless, studies in this regard are very scarce, quite controversial, and merely covering a very small portion of this vast field of research (e.g., testing only a few BB frequencies), not to mention adopting some limited methodologies (e.g., no assessment of the loudness of the BB sound, adopting only between-subject analyses, and testing only one perceptual modality). Hence, we aimed to assess the potential effects of alpha, beta, and gamma BBs on cognitive-behavioral parameters of working memory and attention examined simultaneously in two different modalities (visuospatial and auditory-verbal). Methods: This within-subject five-arm randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial included 155 trials in 31 healthy right-handed subjects (17 women, 14 men, 30.84 ± 6.16 years old). Each subject listened to 8-minute sessions of 10 Hz, 16 Hz, and 40 Hz binaural beats versus 240 Hz pure tone and silence (in random orders). In each 8-minute block, they played a dual 2-back task with feedback enabled. Their cognitive-behavioral parameters (working memory capacities, signal detection measures (hit rate, false alarm rate, sensitivity, and response bias), and reaction speed measures (response time and intrasubject response time variability)) were calculated. The effects of the sound interventions and short-term training on these working memory and attention measures were assessed statistically using mixed-model linear regressions, repeated-measures ANOVAs and ANCOVAs, Bonferroni post hoc tests, and one-sample t-tests (α = 0.05). Results: The following are some major statistically significant findings (P ≤ 0.05): In the visuospatial modality, the 10 Hz BB reduced the response time and intrasubject response time variability and reduced the extent of decline over time in the case of visuospatial working memory, sensitivity, and hit rate. In the auditory-verbal modality, the 10 Hz intervention reduced the hit rate, false alarm rate, and sensitivity. The 10 Hz intervention also caused the lowest intermodality discrepancies in hit rates and false alarm rates, the highest response time discrepancies, and negative discrepancies in working memories and sensitivities (indicating the superiority of the visuospatial modality). The response biases tended to be liberal-to-neutral in the verbal modality and rather conservative in the visuospatial modality. Reactions were faster in the visuospatial modality than the auditory-verbal one, while the intrasubject variability of reaction times was smaller in the auditory-verbal modality. Short-term training can increase the hit rate, working memory, and sensitivity and can decrease the false alarm rate and response time. Aging and reduced sound intervention volume may slow down responses and increase the intrasubject variability of response time. Faster reactions might be correlated with greater hit rates, working memories, and sensitivities and also with lower false alarm rates. Conclusions: The 8-minute alpha-band binaural beat entrainment may have a few, slight enhancing effects within the visuospatial modality, but not in both modalities combined. Short-term training can improve working memory and some cognitive parameters of attention. Some BB interventions can affect the intermodality discrepancies. There may be differences between the two modalities in terms of the response speeds and intrasubject response time variabilities. Aging can slow down the response, while increasing the volume of audio interventions may accelerate it.
... For example, if a 260 Hz tone is presented in the right ear and a 240 Hz tone in the left ear, a 20 Hz tone is perceived in the brain. Binaural beats have a modulatory effect on cognitive function [49,50]. When two ears receive two pure tones of different frequencies, the stimuli are transmitted along the auditory pathway, then phase-sensitive neurons in the hypothalamus are stimulated and the beats are recognized in the superior olivary complex [51,52], at which time, the frontal and parietal lobes associated with cognitive function are activated and cognitive ability, such as attention and verbal memory, is enhanced [53,54]. ...
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Introduction: It is clear that mental fatigue can have many negative impacts on individuals, such as impairing cognitive function or affecting performance. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of sound interventions in combating mental fatigue. Method: The subjects were assessed on various scales, a psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) task, and a 3 min resting-state electroencephalogram (EEG), followed by a 20 min mental fatigue-inducing task (Time Load Dual Back, TloadDback), during which subjects in different condition groups listened to either 15 Hz binaural beats, 40 Hz binaural beats, relaxing music, or a 240 Hz pure tone. After the mental fatigue-inducing task, subjects were again assessed on various scales, a PVT task, and a 3 min resting-state EEG. Results: After the fatigue-inducing task, there was no significant difference between the four groups on the scales or the PVT task performance. In TloadDback, the accuracy rate of the 40 Hz binaural beats group and the relaxing music group decreased in the middle stage of the task, while the 15 Hz binaural beats group and the 240 Hz pure tone group remained unchanged in all stages of the task. The EEG results showed that after fatigue inducement, the average path length of the 15 Hz binaural beats group decreased, and local efficiency showed an increasing tendency, indicating enhanced brain network connectivity. Meanwhile, the 240 Hz pure tone group showed enhanced functional connectivity, suggesting a state of mental fatigue in the group. Conclusions: The results of this study show that listening to 15 Hz binaural beats is a proven intervention for mental fatigue that can contribute to maintaining working memory function, enhancing brain topological structure, and alleviating the decline in brain function that occurs in a mentally fatigued state. As such, these results are of great scientific and practical value.
... 28 As a result, different studies have focused on the psychological effects of the binaural beats of various frequencies and reported substantial evidence in this regard. [32][33][34][35] Consequently, the impact of binaural beats on the anxiety score has been identified in several studies. For example, in patients suffering from anxiety, the use of deltafrequency binaural beats resulted in a reduction in anxiety after the intervention. ...
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Background: Although previous evidence confirms the effects of sleep deprivation on mental health and wellbeing, due to the interaction effects of sleep and mood on each other, the influence of sleep improvement has received less attention. Objective: This study aimed to find whether binaural beat technology can enhance sleep quality and thus post-sleep mood. Methods: Twenty healthy students participated in this pilot study. All subjects were investigated for two weeks (a baseline week and an experimental week). In the first week, there was no intervention, but in the second week, all subjects were exposed to a 90 min binaural beat in the delta frequency range. The individuals' sleep was monitored for two weeks using a sleep diary form, and a Profile of Mood State questionnaire was employed to assess their mood at the end of the first and second weeks. Results: Auditory stimulation with delta binaural beat enhanced sleep parameters such as sleep failure, the number of awakenings, real duration of sleep, sleep quality, and feeling following the waking of the individuals. Finally, students' moods improved by reducing anxiety and anger, but other mood parameters did not indicate a significant difference. Conclusion: The findings of this study confirmed that auditory stimulation with a delta binaural beat seems to be a low-cost and alternative method for medicine and other treatment methods with side effects. Application: This study demonstrates the use of technology with a neuroergonomics approach to improve sleep and mood disorders.
... Although much of the research involving ABS points to anxiety reduction, increased relaxation and improved cognition and attention, the effectiveness of ABS has not been supported in all studies [86][87][88][89][90]. This inconsistency in experimental results is likely due to several factors which include frequency used, type of sound used to mask the binaural beat, trait anxiety, personality factors such as extraversion and duration of exposure [49][50][51][91][92][93]. In this study we accounted for these factors statistically and through experimental design which should help increase the reproducibility of this study. ...
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