Ubrain App. (available on the iTunes Store)
Overview: Ubrain recently launched a new app for i-phone, i-pad, and android that uses binaural beats to influence brain activity. It comes with a fun interface that prompts the user to describe what they are doing, how they are feeling, and how they would like to feel. The app then suggests a selection of binaural beat patterns and provides listening instructions for each one. Once the beat pattern is selected, Ubrain allows the user to make a playlist of music, and mix the binaural beats into the background.
Binaural beats are caused by playing one tone in either ear and tuning the pitches in such a way that the listener perceives beats. Musicians often use the same phenomenon of beats to tell if their instruments are in tune. When two tones' frequencies are close to one another, our brains perceive a kind of interference pattern caused by the relative proximity of the peaks of each wave. The closer the two pitches are together, the slower the beat pattern. A violinist will tune one string to another until the beats disappear. In the context of Ubrain, beats allow the listener to perceive frequency patterns much lower than the limits of the human ear.
Ubrain's resident psychologist Brigitte Forgeot's post-graduate dissertation provides research on how brain waves caused by binaural beats effects mood. Ubrain's website also provides a basic overview of her findings. According to Forgeot, binaural beats help the cortex generate brain waves and induce varying states of alertness. For example if the user is stressed, Ubrain will produce slow Alpha-frequency beats which are associated with relaxation. Or, if the user is feeling lazy, Ubrain will produce Beta-frequency beats associated with concentration.
Since the separation of sound is very important, Ubrain only works when listening on headphones.
Reflection: If it really does work, then Ubrain is an amazing tool. Since purchasing the app for my ipod touch, I have tried out the binaural beat tracks Wake Up, Relax, Einstein, and Focus. I'm not quite convinced that the tracks actually work. The problem is, the descriptions of what the tracks are supposed to do are so clear, I'm not sure if I'm just imagining a difference. I feel like I can concentrate on a task better when I am listening to Focus, but maybe it's just a placebo effect. My other concern is that the app is designed to mix the binaural beats into the background of music from my own collection. When I tried this, I could hear the binaural tones causing beats with some of the instruments in my music. Additionally, I find having music on while trying to read or relax distracting. So, I created a 30min silent track and mixed that with the binaural beat track so that was hearing only the tones produced by Ubrain. I found this approach to be the most effective.
I am intrigued by this app and I am going to continue experimenting with it over the next few weeks. Ubrain and other binaural beat treatments could have interesting applications for A.D.H.D. patients or people suffering from depression. The Ubrain website mentions medical applications briefly, but it would be interesting to read Brigitte Forgeot's study to get more information. Unfortunately, it is written in French and my French is ne pas bon (quelle dommage!) Perhaps one of my classmate can take it on in a future blog. Forgeot's paper can be found at http://www.memoireonline.com/01/07/325/m_sons-binauraux-effets-cliniques-et-neuropsychologiques0.html.