Binaural beats to entrain the brain? A systematic review of the effects of binaural beat stimulation on brain oscillatory activity, and the implications for psychological research and intervention

PLoS One. 2023 May 19;18(5):e0286023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0286023. eCollection 2023.


Binaural beats are an auditory phenomenon that occurs when two tones of different frequencies, which are presented separately to each ear, elicit the sensation of a third tone oscillating at the difference frequency of the two tones. Binaural beats can be perceived in the frequency range of about 1-30 Hz, a range that coincides with the main human EEG frequency bands. The brainwave entrainment hypothesis, which assumes that external stimulation at a certain frequency leads to the brain's electrocortical activity oscillating at the same frequency, provides the basis for research on the effects of binaural beat stimulation on cognitive and affective states. Studies, particularly in more applied fields, usually refer to neuroscientific research demonstrating that binaural beats elicit systematic changes in EEG parameters. At first glance, however, the available literature on brainwave entrainment effects due to binaural beat stimulation appears to be inconclusive at best. The aim of the present systematic review is, thus, to synthesize existing empirical research. A sample of fourteen published studies met our criteria for inclusion. The results corroborate the impression of an overall inconsistency of empirical outcomes, with five studies reporting results in line with the brainwave entrainment hypothesis, eight studies reporting contradictory, and one mixed results. What is to be noticed is that the fourteen studies included in this review were very heterogeneous regarding the implementation of the binaural beats, the experimental designs, and the EEG parameters and analyses. The methodological heterogeneity in this field of study ultimately limits the comparability of research outcomes. The results of the present systematic review emphasize the need for standardization in study approaches so as to allow for reliable insight into brainwave entrainment effects in the future.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Auditory Cortex* / physiology
  • Brain
  • Brain Waves*
  • Humans

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.