The power of sound: Are those Binaural Beats just BS? Oh no! You have NO idea…

How powerful is Music? Our research says: VERY! Humanity has loved music as early as it could keep a beat. It’s the language of emotion. It holds a deep and rooted place in our civilization and sound has an even deeper relationship with our biology, instinct and subconscious. As our knowledge and technologies evolve, so has sound and music.

We can induce energy, fatigue, sadness or happiness and many other human states of being from music. At a social level it’s also fascinating. The sophistication of music as a form of information has many interesting implications; as a religious tool, a form of cultural identity, a symbol of status, an art, a business, a form of marketing, a form of protest, propaganda, generational fandom icons, a form of manipulating our minds in order to generate various “mental states” and even as a weapon!. Some of these musical pioneers go as far as to claim that binaural beats can produce experiences similar to being in high on drugs   others I actually use produce states of concentration, that if mixed with instrumental music, have an awesome effect on my own productivity, focus and concentration. Can it really help you focus? Is it a productivity tool? The answer is yes, the right music and sounds help in the right circumstances. But more importantly we are only now realizing the true power of manipulating sound, we are only scratching the surface!

Let’s Focus on Concentration First

According to Julian Treasure, a “Sound Consultant” we cached on Ted, there are 4 ways sound affects us, most of them at a very unconscious level:

  • Physiologically: We are wired to react to sound, abrupt ones make us jump and our hearts race; slow soothing sounds make us relax, some are just annoying.
  • Psychologically: Sounds produce more complex emotional states, like alertness, sadness, happiness.
  • Cognitively: Sound is a way of transmitting information and also our brain processes sound to understand information. So, environments where there are many conflicting and chaotic sounds, ( like an open plan office), lead to productivity decrements of 60%, while blocking of the sound with headphones that have soothing and motivating melody push productivity back up to the upper 90%.
  • Behaviorally: Dance music motivates, uncomfortable sounds push you to move away. For retailers, bad “Soundscapes” can lead to a 28% decrease in sales.

Julian proposes a method of analyzing behavior and music with the following diagram:

  He also proposes 4 golden rules when it comes to “Soundscape Design”:

Studies have demonstrated that teenagers are hearing music to get homework done and while cramming for tests, which seems interesting since it can be as distracting and counterproductive as it could be a super concentration tool. The difference is what kind of music you choose: If it’s blocking other external sounds and is simple and has no lyrics, then odds are its going to help. The frequency and type of music heard is key to understand how it affects our tasks. Complex music is supposed to be bad for styding. Source:  http://www.ijiet.org/papers/206-K20024.pdf

But to really understand how music affects focus, let’s talkd about those 2 thought-interrupting words: “Pay Attention”

Kahneman´s model of attention says that the amount of attention deployed is a limited resource, like bandwidth or a water pipe, there is only so much audio information that can go into your brain at any one time. In addition, it also states that the amount of attention required for multiple tasks depends directly on the amount of attention required by each single task. Difficult tasks demand more attention than easier ones. Deep focus can is the difference between being able to process something or failing to do so.

Kahneman’s model of divided attention proposes a model of attention which is based around the idea of mental efforts. This is a description of how demanding the processing of a particular input might be.

Some tasks might be relatively automatic (in that they make few demands in terms of mental effort) despite the fact they have a high information load.

Some activities are more demanding (and therefore require more mental effort than others). The total available processing capacities may be increased or decreased by other factors such as arousal.

Several activities can be carried out at the same time, provided that their total effort does not exceed the available capacity

Rules or strategies exist which determine the allocation of resources to various activities and to various stages of processing. Attention capacity will, therefore, reflect the demands made at the perceptual level, the level at which the input is interpreted or committed to memory and the response selection stage.” – Source: http://www.furthereducationlessontrader.co.uk/kahneman%20model%20of%20attention.htm

History says that study of “attention” started in the 1950´s and the theory that has gained more acceptance by researchers is Kahneman´s theory of attention. The model used to explain the effects of background television on cognitive tasks. According to the model, there are two ways that a participant working on a task can interfere. The first one is the capacity of interference; this occurs when the amount of attention is not enough to achieve the demand of the cognitive activities done. The second interference is structural interference, this happens when there are two cognitive activities on the way and both require the same amount of attention to be processed and the participant does not have enough concentration for both of them. The structural interference happens when the capacity exceeds. Link: josotl.indiana.edu/article/download/1733/1731

In Kahneman´s model of attention, music is also a distracting element on activities as reading. A study conducted by this model of attention tried to establish how two types of music; hip-hop and classical music affect a reading task, in simple words, which can be most interfering.

A study on “Reading Comprehension” tested three conditions of sound and concentration: No sound, low information load music and high information load music. The information in music was categorized according to loudness, variety, complexity, and tonal range of music. Results revealed that participants that read under the influence of low information load music had a better performance than the one who read in silence and also did better than the ones who studied under the effect of high information load music. It seems high information load music can produce anxiety and stress that impacts the completion of the task. Low information music can help and improve focus and there for increase the odds of individuals to complete tasks. In teaching and learning processes, music can come in handy to improve the rate of learning and the time it takes to complete it. Classical music is used as background music in educational videos because it is considered low information load music.

Brain Frequency and Sound Frequency

Music is sound, we divide sound based on frequency and we also divide brain activity in to ranges of frequency. Now we know that music affects us, that a specific piece of music with low information load will help us concentrate better, especially if it’s providing a protective “Sound Curtain” that replaces the bad sounds from the environment with soothing simple ones, and that this kind of background study music or noise is better than silence. But did you know that the “frequency of sound” has a special relation with the frequency of the brain? The effort and study of manipulating brain waves with sound waves is what many call binaural beats.

“At the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviors is the communication between neurons within our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronized electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other.

Brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. They are divided into bandwidths to describe their functions, but are best thought of as a continuous spectrum of consciousness; from slow, loud and functional – to fast, subtle, and complex.

It is a handy analogy to think of Brainwaves as musical notes – the low frequency waves are like a deeply penetrating drum beat, while the higher frequency brainwaves are more like a subtle high pitched flute. Like a symphony, the higher and lower frequencies link and cohere with each other through harmonics. ”

  • “Delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz) are the slowest brain waves and occur primarily during our deepest state of dreamless sleep. Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz) occur during sleep but have also been observed in the deepest states of Zen meditation.
  • Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) are present when your brain is in an idling default-state typically created when you’re daydreaming or consciously practicing mindfulness or meditation. Alpha waves can also be created by doing aerobic exercise.
  • Beta waves (12-30 Hz) typically dominate our normal waking states of consciousness and occur when attention is directed towards cognitive and other tasks. Beta is a ‘fast’ wave activity that is present when we are alert, attentive, focused, and engaged in problem solving or decision making. Depression and anxiety have also been linked to beta waves because they can lead to “rut-like” thinking patterns.
  • Gamma waves (25 to 100 Hz) typically hover around 40 Hz and are the fastest of the brain wave bandwidths. Gamma waves relate to simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas and have been associated with higher states of conscious perception.

Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

“When you concentrate with profound focus on something, the electrical patterns in your brain slow down and relax, and the amplitude of your brain-waves generally stabilizes in the alpha wave range. The concept called “brainwave entrainment” can help you get to that state of mental focus (Super Study Mode).

Brainwave entrainment is any method that causes your brainwave frequencies to fall into step with a specific frequency. It’s based on the concept that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus (such as music, or sound).”

What the future brings: The cherry on the top, very cool, but very scary new sound technology.

We will leave you with this amazing advanced on technology that helps put sound anywhere you want, and mute it at hairline borders on the space around it. This new Hypersonic Sound is to Sound, like what the laser is in regards to light.

Woody Norris shows off two of his inventions that use sound in new ways, including the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. He talks about his untraditional approach to inventing and education, because, as he puts it: “Almost nothing has been invented yet.”