Some claim that binaural beats can improve concentration. Can they help someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) focus?
by Steve Etheridge
Binaural beats are essentially two tones of different frequencies that, when listened to simultaneously, sound like a single tone and are alleged to have substantial neurological benefits. Advocates insist they can reduce anxiety, enhance concentration, and even eliminate pain. It sounds like auditory snake oil to me, and after seeing websites (like here and here) selling listening sessions at prices as high as $18, my skepticism’s only further compounded.
But a friend of mine lends me her iPod with a recording containing binaural beats specifically designed for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) (although she draws a blank on where, exactly, she purchased it), and I take it to a local coffee shop to give it a try. I should note that this is the kind of coffee shop that can only hurt my productivity, full of loud clanging and chirpy music and girls so cute they can’t be ignored. In a corner chair with a tall cup of tea, I don my enormous, world-cancelling headphones and press play.
The resulting tone sounds noisier than an idling Ford Focus engine. Maybe a ceiling fan on attempting to go 60 miles an hour better describes it. Consistent and high-pitched, it does a good job in blocking out external stimuli, but this doesn’t exactly mean it’s honing my focus. If anything, it’s gently sedating me, chilling me out for a lazy stint on my couch back home. I’m not feeling fidgety, I’m blissfully unaware of what the folks around me are doing, and I’ve checked my e-mail approximately 63 fewer times than usual while writing this paragraph. But now it feels like it's just that much easier to get lost in my own head. Some serious daydreaming is going on, and though I know this review won’t finish itself … Do you ever stare all fuzzy-eyed at nothing in particular on your laptop for minutes on end? Because that’s all I want to do right now.
In other words, I don’t think I’m a convert to binaural beats. Maybe if there was more conclusive science supporting them my skepticism would be diminished, but for the time being, I’m ready to hit the stop button and finish my work somewhere quiet.