Auditory beat stimulation (ABS) has many applications ranging from understanding how sound is processed to influencing mood states and cognition (i.e., thoughts, memory, concentration, etc…). ABS typically uses monaural and binaural beats; the former are beats presented to one or both ears simultaneously, and the latter are two beats with neighboring frequencies (e.g., 440Hz and 480 Hz) introduced separately to each ear (e.g., 440Hz to the left ear and 480Hz to the right ear).
The use of these two types of beats is pertinent from a neurophysiological perspective because they are processed differently in the brain. More particularly, monaural beats are physical beats that are captured by the cochlear before being relayed to the brain stem and auditory cortex (where the sound is coded); however, binaural beats are only subjectively perceived by neurons (i.e., brain cells) whose function is to localize sounds.
Investigating the effects of ABS on cognition yielded contradictory results. For example, prolonged exposure to ABS has been found to decrease short-term memory recall but had no objective effects on attention, although participants with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) felt that they experienced fewer difficulties after listening to binaural beats.
By contrast, there are consistent reports of the beneficial effects of binaural beat stimulation on both trait (i.e., anxiety that is part of one’s personality) and state anxiety (i.e., temporary anxiety due to an event or a situation). In each case, patients reported that listening to binaural beats decreased their anxiety. Similarly, exposure to binaural beat stimulation was associated with a decrease in depression symptoms and overall negative mood.
Barring those results, we have yet to identify what underlying neural mechanisms contribute to those effects to enable the creation of a standard therapeutic use of ABS.
Chaieb, L., Wilpert, E. C., Reber, T. P., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood States. Frontiers in psychiatry, 6, 70. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00070