Brainwave entrainment

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Brainwave entrainment is a colloquialism for 'neural entrainment', which denotes how the aggregate oscillation frequency, resulting from synchronous electrical activity among ensembles of cortical neurons, can adjust to synchronize with the periodic vibration of an external stimuli, such as a sustained acoustic frequency perceived as pitch, a regularly repeating pattern of intermittent sounds perceived as rhythm, or a regularly intermittent flashing light.

Cortical oscillation and electroencephalography (EEG)

Neural oscillations are rhythmic or repetitive electrochemical activity in the brain and central nervous system. Such oscillations can be characterized by their frequency, amplitude and phase. Neural tissue can generate oscillatory activity driven by mechanisms within individual neurons, as well as by interactions between them. They may also adjust frequency to synchronize with the periodic vibration of an external acoustic or visual stimuli.[1]

The activity of neurons generate electric currents; and the synchronous action of neural ensembles in the cerebral cortex, comprising large numbers of neurons, produce macroscopic oscillations, which can be monitored and graphically documented by an electroencephalogram (EEG). The electroencephalographic representations of those oscillations are typically denoted by the term 'brainwaves' in common parlance.[2][3]

The technique of recording neural electrical activity within the brain from electrochemical readings taken from the scalp originated with the experiments of Richard Caton in 1875, whose findings were developed into electroencephalography (EEG) by Hans Berger in the late 1920s.

Frequency bands of cortical neural ensembles

The fluctuating frequency of oscillations generated by the synchronous activity of cortical neurons, measurable with an electroencephalogram (EEG), via electrodes attached to the scalp, are conveniently categorized into general bands, in order of decreasing frequency, measured in Hertz (HZ) as follows:[4][5]

In addition, three further wave forms are often delineated in electroencephalographic studies:

It was Berger who first described the frequency bands Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta.

Brainwaves and mental state

There remains persistent uncertainty about the precise neuronal mechanisms that generate the brainwaves recorded by electroencephalograms (EEG). Furthermore, EEGs are incomplete records of neuronal activities in the brain, being limited to synchronous electrical activity of cortical neurons. Nonetheless, following the technique of measuring such brainwaves by Berger, there has remained a ubiquitous consensus that electroencephalogram (EEG) readings depict brainwave wave form patterns that alter over time, and correlate with the aspects of the subject's mental and emotional state, mental status, and degree of consciousness and vigilance.[7][8][9] It is therefore now established and accepted that discreet electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements, including frequency and amplitude of neural oscillations, correlate with different perceptual, motor and cognitive states.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

The rhythmic nature of human activity

A number of authoritative sources have suggested that all human activity is essentially rhythmic. For example, Mari Jones, Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University, known for extensive research into people’s response to auditory patterns, especially music, writes that 'all human performance can be evaluated within a rhythmic framework'. Jones further postulates that human beings have an innate propensity to entrain endogenous rhythms, that is those occurring within the body, to synchronize with both perceived and expected frequencies and rhythmic patterns in the external environment, and she postulates that people are particularly responsive to the rhythms inherent in music.[21][22]

Meanwhile, Frank J. Bernieri, Associate Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, Janet M. Davis, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, Robert Rosenthal Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and C. Raymond Knee, Professor Director of the Self, Motivation, and Relationship Theories (SMaRT) Laboratory at the University of Houston suggest that 'human behavior is understood to occur rhythmically and therefore can be described in terms of cycles, periods, frequencies, and amplitudes'.[23][24]

Entrainment

Meaning and origin of the term 'entrainment'

Entrainment is a term originally derived from complex systems theory, and denotes the way that two or more independent, autonomous oscillators with differing rhythms or frequencies, when situated in a context and at a proximity where they can interact for long enough, influence each other mutually, to a degree dependent on coupling force, such that they adjust until both oscillate with the same frequency. Examples include the mechanical entrainment or cyclic synchronization of two electric clothes dryers placed in close proximity, and the biological entrainment evident in the synchronized illumination of fireflies.[25]

Entrainment is a concept first identified by the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1665 who discovered the phenomenon during an experiment with pendulum clocks: He set them each in motion and found that when he returned the next day, the sway of their pendulums had all synchronized.[26]

Such entrainment occurs because small amounts of energy are transferred between the two systems when they are out of phase in such a way as to produce negative feedback. As they assume a more stable phase relationship, the amount of energy gradually reduces to zero, with system of greater frequency slowing down, and the other speeding up.[27]

Subsequently, the term 'entrainment' has been used to describe a shared tendency of many physical and biological systems to synchronize their periodicity and rhythm through interaction. This tendency has been identified as specifically pertinent to the study of sound and music generally, and acoustic rhythms specifically. The most ubiquitous and familiar examples of neuromotor entrainment to acoustic stimuli is observable in spontaneous foot or finger tapping to the rhythmic beat of a song.

Exogenous entrainment

Exogenous rhythmic entrainment, which occurs outside the body, has been identified and documented for a variety of human activities, which include the way people adjust the rhythm of their speech patterns to those of the subject with whom they communicate, and the rhythmic unison of an audience clapping.[28]

Even among groups of strangers, the rate of breathing, locomotive and subtle expressive motor movements, and rhythmic speech patterns have been observed to synchronize and entrain, in response to an auditory stimuli, such as a piece of music with a consistent rhythm.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35] Furthermore, motor synchronization to repetitive tactile stimuli occurs in animals, including cats and monkeys as well as humans, with accompanying shifts in electroencephalogram (EEG) readings.[36][37][38][39][40]

Endogenous entrainment

Examples of endogenous entrainment, which occurs within the body, include the synchronizing of human circadian sleep-wake cycles to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark.[41] and the synchronization of a heartbeat to a cardiac pacemaker.[42]

Brainwave entrainment

Brainwaves, or neural oscillations, share the fundamental constituents with acoustic and optical wave forms, including frequency, amplitude, and periodicity. Consequently, Huygens' discovery precipitated inquiry into whether or not the synchronous electrical activity of cortical neural ensembles might not only alter in response to external acoustic or optical stimuli but also entrain or synchronize their frequency to that of a specific stimulus.[43][44][45][46]

Brainwave entrainment is a colloquialism for such 'neural entrainment', which is a term used to denote the way in which the aggregate frequency of oscillations produced by the synchronous electrical activity in ensembles of cortical neurons can adjust to synchronize with the periodic vibration of an external stimuli, such as a sustained acoustic frequency perceived as pitch, a regularly repeating pattern of intermittent sounds, perceived as rhythm, or of a regularly rhythmically intermittent flashing light.

The frequency following response and auditory driving

The hypothesized entrainment of neural oscillations to the frequency of an acoustic stimulus occurs by way of the Frequency following response (FFR), also referred to as Frequency Following Potential (FFP). The use of sound with intent to influence brainwave cortical brainwave frequency is called auditory driving.[47][48]

Auditory driving refers to the hypothesized ability for repetitive rhythmic auditory stimuli to 'drive' neural electric activity to entrain with it. By the principles of such hypotheses, it is proposed that, for example, a subject who hears drum rhythms at 8 beats per second, will be influenced such that an electroencephalogram (EEG) reading will show an increase brainwave activity at 8 Hz range, in the upper theta, lower alpha band.

Binaural beats and neural entrainment

Main article: Binaural beats

One of the problems inherent in any scientific investigation conducted in order to ascertain whether brainwaves can entrain to the frequency of an acoustic stimulus is that human subjects rarely hear frequencies below 20 Hz, which is exactly the range of Delta, Theta, Alpha, and low to mid Beta brainwaves.[49][50] Among the methods by which some investigations have sought to overcome this problem is to measure electroencephalogram (EEG) readings of a subject while he or she listens to binaural beats.

A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically, that is one through each ear.[51] For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a subject's right ear, while a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the subject's left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone, in addition to the two pure-tones presented to each ear. The third sound is called a binaural beat, and in this example would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, that being the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented to each ear.[52]

Binaural-beat perception originates in the inferior colliculus of the midbrain and the superior olivary complex of the brainstem, where auditory signals from each ear are integrated and precipitate electrical impulses along neural pathways through the reticular formation up the midbrain to the thalamus, auditory cortex, and other cortical regions [53][54][55][56]

There is significant evidence to show that such listening precipitates auditory driving by which ensembles of cortical neurons entrain their frequencies to that of the binaural beat, with associated changes in self-reported subjective experience of emotional and cognitive state.[57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71][72]

Binaural beats and music

Many of the aforementioned and cited investigations are based on the use of auditory stimuli that combines binaural beats with other sounds, including music and verbal guidance. This consequently precludes the attribution of any influence on or positive outcome for the listener specifically to the perception of the binaural beats.[73] Very few studies have sought to isolate the effect of binaural beats on listeners. However, initial findings in one experiment suggest that listening to binaural beats may exert an influence on both Low Frequency and High Frequency components of heart rate variability, and may increase subjective feelings of relaxation.[74]

Notwithstanding this problem, a review of research findings suggest that listening to music and sound can modulate autonomic arousal through entrainment of neural oscillations. Furthermore, music generally, and rhythmic patterns, such as those produced by percussive performance including drumming specifically, have been shown to influence arousal ergotropically and trophotropically, increasing and decreasing arousal respectively.[75] Such auditory stimulation has been demonstrated to improve immune function, facilitate relaxation, improve mood, and contribute to the alleviation of stress.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82][83]

Meanwhile, the therapeutic benefits of listening to sound and music, whether or not the outcome can be attributed to neural entrainment, is a well-established principle upon which the practice of receptive music therapy is founded. The term 'receptive music therapy' denotes a process by which patients or participants listen to music with specific intent to therapeutically benefit; and is a term used by therapists to distinguish it from 'active music therapy' by which patients or participants engage in producing vocal or instrumental music.[84]

Receptive music therapy is an effective adjunctive intervention suitable for treating a range of physical and mental conditions.[85]

Meanwhile, the evident changes in neural oscillations precipitated by listening to music, which are demonstrable through electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements,[86][87][88][89][90][91] have contributed to the development of neurologic music therapy, which uses music and song as an active and receptive intervention, to contribute to the treatment and management of disorders characterized by impairment to parts of the brain and central nervous system, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer's disease, and autism.[92][93][94]

Non ordinary states of consciousness

Historically, music generally, and percussive performance specifically was and remains integral to ritual ceremony and spiritual practice among early and indigenous peoples and their descendants, where it is often used to induce the non ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC) believed by participants to be a requisite for communication with spiritual energies and entities.[95][96]

Whilst there is no scientific evidence for existence of such energy or entities, and thereby nor the human capacity to communicate with them, the findings of some contemporary research suggests that listening to rhythmic sounds, especially percussion, can induce the subjective experience of a non ordinary states of consciousness (NOSC), with correlating electroencephalogram (EEG) profiles comparable to those associated with some forms of meditation, while also increasing the susceptibility to hypnosis.[97][98][99][100] Specifically, some investigations show that the electroencephalogram (EEG) readings attained while a subject is meditating are comparable to those taken while he or she is listening to binaural beats, characterized by increased activity in the Alpha and Theta bands.[101][102][103][104][105]

See also

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Further reading

  • Thaut, M. H., Rhythm, Music, and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications (Studies on New Music Research). New York, NY: Routledge, 2005.
  • Berger, J. and Turow, G. (Eds.), Music, Science, and the Rhythmic Brain : Cultural and Clinical Implications. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011.

External links