Brain waves expand concept of ‘super-learning’

  • Sep. 3, 2014 3:14 p.m.

Super learning is a concept that explores how human brains intake information and how people can excel their understanding of new concepts.

Super learning uses presentations of two different frequencies of sound (known as binaural beats) to produce alpha rhythm – a frequency of brain waves that until recently was thought to be only produced during sleep.

Dr. Elena Antoniadis, a psychology instructor at Red Deer College, breaks down this concept by explaining the relationship between super learning, and stimulating alpha waves.

“If someone could present a tone that is 1,000 hertz in one ear, and 1,010 in the other, the difference is 10 hertz – that would produce alpha rhythm. If you listen to some audio or mp3s, there is a humming tone that activates the brain stem by doing that,” said Antoniadis.

“Essentially, alpha rhythm facilitates and promotes super learning because it makes you pay attention to what you’re studying, and it filters out the irrelevant information.”

To further explain what Antoniadis said, the alpha waves trigger chemicals in the brain that are used to help create lasting, factual memories. The alpha waves that are produced also essentially act as a buffer between relevant and irrelevant information while learning or performing a task.

This new understanding of the brain wave function is very exciting to scientists and psychologists, as it is opening doors into better understanding of how human brains can store information long-term.

“What they’re finding is that this alpha rhythm actually inhibits task irrelevant information. So, it’s really great. It’s fascinating because this plays a role in declarative memories – ‘I know that…’ statements, such as knowing for a fact that the capital city of Utah is Salt Lake City.”

A practical example of this information regarding super learning is often found with ‘learn language quick’ programs. The language (target auditory information) is presented in one ear at a specific frequency, and a humming tone at a different frequency would stimulate the alpha waves, releasing chemicals that help people store the information they want to (the language) while blocking out unnecessary noise.

“What people do is they will present words in one headphone, and they mask with a hum or something. They tell you to pay attention to your ear with the target auditory information (say, a language lesson). Then they’re masking it with something – noise or sounds – and what they’ve found is that alpha rhythm (that comes from the different frequencies of the sounds) blocks out the irrelevant noise and allows one to focus on what they want to learn,” she said.

“Our mind gets distracted. There are impulsive, uncontrolled thoughts, and our emotional brain. When alpha rhythm is produced, people find that they are more relaxed and flexible in their thinking – they aren’t restricted.”

That means people are physiologically more able to take that information and make it useful.

“We all suffer from not being able to channel focus. With all this technology, and devices, we’re always distracted. We’re thinking about things we need to do – we feel emotions like guilt, or anxiety and that scatters our attention. In a society that’s all go, go, go, it’s very difficult to tell people to do nothing and stop multitasking.”

There are many practical uses for the concept of super learning.

Students in school who have trouble focusing on a task could put on a pair of headphones and use the concept of binaural beats to block out unrelated stimulus, and focus better on their work. Businesses could use this concept to train employees, helping them to develop a more meaningful understanding of policies and job tasks.

As scientists and psychologists develop the understanding of super learning, an understanding of how people learn, hold onto information and develop deeper understanding of concepts could be revolutionized, she said.