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Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, caused by specific physical stimuli. This effect was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove and earned greater public awareness in the late 20th century based on claims coming from the alternative medicine community that binaural beats could help induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable mental states. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone: for example, if 300 Hz was played in one ear and 310 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10 Hz.


The brain produces a phenomenon resulting in low-frequency pulsations in the amplitude and sound localization of a perceived sound when two tones at slightly different frequencies are presented separately, one to each of a subject’s ears, using stereo headphones. A beating tone will be perceived, as if the two tones mixed naturally, out of the brain. The frequencies of the tones must be below 1,000 hertz  for the beating to be noticeable. The difference between the two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30 Hz) for the effect to occur; otherwise, the two tones will be heard separately, and no beat will be perceived.


Binaural beats are of interest to neurophysiologists investigating the sense of hearing. 


Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain in more subtle ways through the entrainment of brainwaves and provide other health benefits such as control over pain. 



The sensation of binaural beats is believed to originate in the superior olivary nucleus,  a part of the brain stem.They appear to be related to the brain’s ability to locate the sources of sounds in three dimensions and to track moving sounds, which also involves inferior colliculus (IC) neurons. Regarding entrainment, the study of rhythmicity provides insights into the understanding of temporal information processing in the human brain. Auditory rhythms rapidly entrain motor responses into stable steady synchronization states below and above conscious perception thresholds. Activated regions include primary sensorimotor and cingulate areas, bilateral opercular premotor areas, bilateral SII, ventral prefrontal cortex, and, subcortically, anterior insula, putamen, and thalamus. Within the cerebellum, vermal regions and anterior hemispheres ipsilateral to the movement became significantly activated. Tracking temporal modulations additionally activated predominantly right prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and intraparietal regions as well as posterior cerebellar hemispheres. A study of aphasic subjects who had a severe stroke versus normal subjects showed that the aphasic subject could not hear the binaural beats, whereas the normal subjects could.


Brain function

For more details on this topic, see brainwave entrainment.  

Binaural beats may influence functions of the brain in ways besides those related to hearing. This phenomenon is called “frequency following response”. The concept is that if one receives a stimulus with a frequency in the range of brain waves, the predominant brainwave frequency is said to be likely to move towards the frequency of the stimulus (a process called entrainment ). In addition, binaural beats have been credibly documented to relate to both spatial perception and stereo auditory recognition, and, according to the frequency following response, activation of various sites in the brain.


The stimulus does not have to be aural; it can also be visual or a combination of aural and visual (one such example would be Dreamachine).


Perceived human hearing is limited to the range of frequencies from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, but the frequencies of human brain waves are below about 40 Hz. To account for this lack of perception, binaural beat frequencies are used. Beat frequencies of 40 Hz have been produced in the brain with binaural sound and measured experimentally.


When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to the delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma  range of brainwave frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to or move towards the beat frequency. For example, if a 315 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 325 Hz one into the left ear, the brain is entrained towards the beat frequency 10 Hz, in the alpha range. Since alpha range is associated with relaxation, this has a relaxing effect, or if in the beta range, more alertness. An experiment with binaural sound stimulation using beat frequencies in the beta range on some participants and the delta/theta range on other participants found better vigilance performance and mood in those on the awake alert state of beta-range stimulation.


Binaural beat stimulation has been used fairly extensively in attempts to induce a variety of states of consciousness, and there has been some work done in regards to the effects of these stimuli on relaxation, focus, attention, and states of consciousness. Studies have shown that with repeated training to distinguish close frequency sounds that a plastic reorganization of the brain occurs for the trained frequencies and is capable of asymmetric hemispheric balanc



The phenomenon is called ASMR. It stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” but it has a more popular, less clinical name name: “brain orgasms.”


Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) signifies the subjective experience of ‘low-grade euphoria’ characterized by ‘a combination of positive feelings, relaxation, and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin’. It typically begins ‘on the scalp’ before moving ‘down the spine’ to the base of the neck, sometimes spreading ‘to the back, arms and legs as intensity increases’, most commonly triggered by specificacoustic and visual stimuli including the content of some digital videos, and less commonly by intentional attentional control.


ASMR and meditation

Several scientists have posited that there may be similarities between ASMR and meditative or contemplative practice. For example, in May 2013 psychiatrist Michael Yasinski was reported to have said that ASMR may be similar to meditation in the way it helps individuals ‘focus’ and ‘relax’ helping to ‘shut down’ ‘parts of the brain’ ‘responsible for stress and anxiety’. Subsequently, in June 2014, Carl W. Bazil, Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and director of its Sleep Disorders Center, suggested that ASMR videos ‘seem to be a variation on finding ways to shut your brain down’ comparable to ‘guided imagery, progressive relaxation, hypnosis and meditation’.


Meanwhile, the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR based on a scientific experiment, conducted at Swansea University by psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barratt, suggests that the subjective experience of ASMR might compare to the state of ‘flow’ identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as the condition of fully concentrating on and being completely absorbed in the present activity or situation to such a degree that nothing else seems to matter.


Origins of the name

The term ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ (ASMR) was coined on 25 February 2010 by Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity professional residing in New York in the introduction to a Facebook Group she founded entitled the ‘ASMR Group’.


Prior to the subsequent social consensus that led to what is now the ubiquitous adoption of that term, other names were proposed and discussed at a number of locations including the Steady Health forum, the ‘Society of Sensationalists’ Yahoo! Group, and the ‘Unnamed Feeling’ Blog.


Proposed formal names included ‘Attention Induced Head Orgasm’, ‘Attention Induced Euphoria’, and ‘Attention Induced Observant Euphoria’; whilst colloquial terms in usage included ‘brain massage’, ‘head tingle’, brain tingle’, ‘spine tingle’, and ‘brain orgasm’.


Whilst many colloquial and formal terms used and proposed between 2007 and 2010 included reference to ‘orgasm’, there was during that time a significant majority objection to its use among those active in online discussions, many of whom have continued to persist in differentiating the euphoric and relaxing nature of ASMR from sexual arousal. However, by 2015, a division had occurred within the ASMR community over the subject of sexual arousal, with some creating videos categorized as ASMRotica, which are deliberately designed to be sexually stimulating.


Prior to the sexualization of ASMR media by some video creators, the initial consensus among the ‘ASMR Community’ that any adopted name should not pose an unnecessarily high risk of the phenomenon being perceived as sexual by commentators, reporters, and the general public contributed to the choice and combination of words proposed by Jennifer Allen: ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ (ASMR).


Allen chose the words intending or assuming them to have the following specific meanings:

  • Autonomous – spontaneous, self-governing, within or without control
  • Sensory – pertaining to the senses or sensation
  • Meridian – signifying a peak, climax, or point of highest development
  • Response – referring to an experience triggered by something external or internal


Allen chose the word ‘meridian’ as ‘a kinder way of saying orgasmic’ or ‘peak’, indicating a non-sexual experience comparable in pleasurable intensity to orgasm.


The term ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ and its initialism ‘ASMR’ was adopted by both the community of contributors to online discussions, and those reporting and commentating on the phenomenon.


The sensation and its triggers


The sensation

The subjective experience, sensation, and perceptual phenomenon now widely identified by the term ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ is described by some of those susceptible to it as ‘akin to a mild electrical current…or the carbonated bubbles in a glass of champagne’.


The triggers

ASMR is usually precipitated by stimuli referred to as ‘triggers’.ASMR triggers, which are most commonly acoustic and visual, may be encountered through the interpersonal interactions of daily life. Additionally, ASMR is often triggered by exposure to specific audio and video. Such media may be especially made with the specific purpose of triggering ASMR, or originally created for other purposes and later discovered to be effective as a trigger of the experience.


Exposure to stimuli that can trigger ASMR, as reported by those who experience it, include the following:

  • Listening to a softly spoken or whispering voice
  • Listening to quiet, repetitive sounds resulting from someone engaging in a mundane task such as turning the pages of a book
  • Watching somebody attentively execute a mundane task such as folding towels
  • Receiving altruistic tender personal attention


Furthermore, watching and listening to an audiovisual recording of a person performing or simulating the above actions and producing their consequent and accompanying sounds is sufficient to trigger ASMR for the majority of those who report susceptibility to the experience.


Whispering triggers

Psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barrat discovered that whispering was an effective trigger for 75% of the 475 subjects who took part in an experiment to investigate the nature of ASMR; and that statistic is reflected in the popularity of intentional ASMR videos that comprise someone speaking in a whispered voice.


Acoustic triggers

Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those produced by fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, writing and a person or animal eating. Many intentional ASMR videos posted to YouTube capture a single person performing these actions and their subsequent sounds.


Personal attention role play triggers

In addition to the effectiveness of specific acoustic stimuli, many subjects report that ASMR is triggered by the receipt of tender personal attention, often comprising combined physical touch and vocal expression, such as when having their hair cut, nails painted, ears cleaned, or back massaged, whilst the service provider speaks quietly to the recipient. Furthermore, many of those who have experienced ASMR during these and other comparable encounters with a service provider report that watching an ‘ASMRtist’ simulate the provision of such personal attention, acting directly to camera as if the viewer were the recipient of a simulated service, is sufficient to trigger it.


Psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barrat discovered that personal attention was an effective trigger for 69% of the 475 subjects who participated in a study conducted a Swansea University, second in popularity only to whispering.