Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million Americans. Include anxiety less severe than is required to count as a mental illness, and more than 28% of Americans can be included among those who suffer from anxiety. Treatment for anxiety related medical issues costs the United States more than $42 million each year.
Do binaural beats offer hope for treatment of anxiety?
Research suggests that they do. A Canadian study with 15 subjects asked participants to listen to music embedded with binaural beats daily for a month. In fact, the subjects listened only an average of once or twice each week for the 30 minutes requested. In spite of the lessened time, researchers found a statistically significant reduction in the subjects’ anxiety levels. Interestingly, subjects didn’t show a uniform reduction in anxiety immediately after listening to the tapes, though there was a trend in that direction. It is possible that the subjects’ failure to follow through was the result of this lack of immediate result.
The combination of music and binaural beats may be an issue.
A study conducted at the Sunderland Royal Hospital compared three groups of patients. One group heard music with binaural beats. A second heard the same music without the binaural beats. The third was the control group, with no intervention at all.
The group hearing binaural beats showed significantly lower levels of anxiety. Reductions in anxiety levels for those listening just to music were about 11%, a number high enough to justify the use of music in the hospital. Those listening to the binaural beats, however, showed over 26% reductions in their anxiety levels.
The researchers were particularly pleased with the results because they had previously observed that music varies in its effectiveness based on the previous associations for the patients. That is, a patient who knows and loves Mozart may find it soothing, while patients who dislike classical music may find that it increases their anxiety. Binaural beats don’t depend on previous experiences for their value.
Both these studies suggest that binaural beats do in fact reduce anxiety. The Canadian study dealt with individuals who were instructed to listen in their homes, but who did not follow through consistently, possibly because they didn’t notice immediate benefits and perhaps because of music preferences. The British study didn’t rely on patients to listen on their own, but this study found significant results from a single treatment.
A study at Duke University took a different approach. Some subjects listened to simple tones embedded in pink noise (not music), while others heard binaural beats embedded in the same pink noise. Subjects didn’t know that there were binaural beats involved in the experiment.
On three separate occasions, the subjects of this study were asked to perform tasks that required strong concentration. Those listening to the binaural beats had significantly fewer “false alarms” and errors in the task, and also reported less anxiety.
Without the possible complication of music in the study, this study concluded that binaural beats could be beneficial for attention and mood. Since none of the subjects had an prior awareness that binaural beats were being used and all subjects were listening to sounds they would describe as “noise,” this study may give the clearest result.
However, these controlled research results just support what individuals who use binaural beats have found since the technique was first discovered more than a century ago. It has been suggested that the calming effect people experience when listening to binaural beats is the result of their being quiet and resting while listening, or of the music they listen to along with the binaural beats, or even of their own intention to become calmer. Studies like those reported above show that this is not the case.
For anxiety sufferers whose suffering is lessened by binaural beat treatment, the reason is not very important. The fact that it works, without drugs or expensive therapy, is reason enough to use the technique.