A new Danish study suggests that just 12 minutes of binaural beats — a form of sound wave therapy — and 4 weeks of mindfulness training may be effective recovery strategies to counteract the negative effects of mental fatigue on sustained attention.
Mental fatigue is defined as a psychobiological state caused by prolonged periods of demanding mental activity which results in slower reaction times and attention deficits. Mental fatigue impacts our ability to focus, study and make good decisions during a given task and is often responsible for accidents in traffic or the workplace.
Studies have shown that mindfulness can have a positive effect on stress-coping abilities and cognitive performance. There is also mounting research suggesting that listening to binaural beats may increase sustained attention. When listening to binaural beats, a person is presented with different tones of different frequency (165Hz in the left and 179 Hz in the right) in each ear, but hears only one tone, which is the difference between the two tones (beta range of 14 Hz).
In the new study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, the researchers investigated the efficacy of binaural beats compared to mindfulness as mental recovery strategies to counteract the negative effects of mental fatigue on sustained attention.
The study was conducted by Johanne L. Axelsen and Ulrich Kirk from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and Walter Staiano from the University of Valencia.
Some of the participants were mindfulness beginners, participating in on-the-spot interventions, and others were a little more experienced in mindfulness, after having practiced mindfulness for 4 weeks in an online-based program through the app Headspace.
There were five phases of the study. In the initial phase, the participants’ moods were assessed, and they completed a sustained attention task to measure their mind wandering.
The second phase consisted of the mental fatigue experiment for 90 minutes. Immediately afterward, the participants’ moods were assessed again, and the two on-the-spot interventions followed: either listening to a guided mindfulness meditation track for 12 minutes or an audio track (with binaural beats) for 12 minutes. A control group was asked to relax for 12 minutes. After this, the effects of the interventions were tested using the sustained attention task.
The results show that there was indeed an effect from the on-the-spot binaural beats on sustained attention while in a state of experimentally induced mental fatigue.
Interestingly, the experienced mindfulness group performed significantly better than the rest of the groups on the sustained attention task both before and after the mental fatigue was induced.
The results, similar to those of a previous study by the team, indicate that binaural beats may help suppress mind-wandering and sharpen attentional focus, which in turn reduces the negative effects of mental fatigue. The individual might feel more relaxed and less affected by mental fatigue after listening to the music.
The same goes for the experienced mindfulness group. The benefits of mindfulness training was clear on the first task in which they performed better than the rest of the groups. This could indicate that practicing mindfulness helps you focus on the task at hand and is effective in offering strategies to handling stressful situations and economizing of mental energy.
Overall, the study found that just 12 minutes of binaural beats and 4 weeks of mindfulness training were effective recovery strategies to counteract the negative effects of mental fatigue on sustained attention.
The team is currently looking into whether listening to binaural beats for a longer period or practicing mindfulness will improve stressed individuals’ heart rate variability (HRV) and if this has an effect on performance in specific cognitive tasks.