by Robin Vincent | Approximate reading time: 3 Minutes

Nervana generator  ·  Source:

Nervana headphones  ·  Source:

Nervana generator input and output  ·  Source:


Why does anyone listen to music – for the vibe, for the sensation, for the pleasure and the way it makes us feel? Well, a little team of entrepreneurial scientists from Florida believe they can take us a bit further, with a device that can stimulate the vagus nerve in the brain in complete synchronisation with the music you’re listening to – and all without surgery or invasive procedures. According to the website: “NERVANA signals electrically stimulate nerves that trigger pleasure producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Neuroscientists have known for decades that these compounds are responsible for sensations of happiness, infatuation, and enhanced mood.”


The vagus nerve is very long, extending from the brain down through most of the internal organs and is responsible for regulating the heart beat, muscle movement, breathing and digestive tract. It also delivers various chemicals throughout the body which is probably what Nervana claims to do. Stimulating the vagus nerve often causes a slowing in heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. It’s sometimes used medically to treat depression and epilepsy. All of which sounds pretty positive. My only slight worry is that I had to look it all up as this sort of information is not on their website. Under “Science behind vagus nerve stimulation” they give you one line which basically says we stimulate the nerve and it feels good – very scientific! And my favourite is the detail under “Safety” which says “Nervana is chemical free and safe to use” which is, I guess, reassuring.

Back to the device in question. Nervana is a device of two parts. Firstly you have the generator box which looks like the size of an old iPod. You plug your music player (phone, MP3 player etc) into the audio input on the top. The generator then analysises the music and generates a targeted vagus nerve stimulation output that’s in sync with what you’re listening to. But that’s not all, it also has an ambient mode which uses an in-built microphone so that you can become stimulated by your environment. You can also use the device with no music or sound at all. The second part of the device is the specially designed headphones which receive the mix of music and stimulation signals. The stimulation signals are only routed to the left side but they don’t explain why, or why their earbuds are important, but apparently it will only work with these.

Honestly it sounds fascinating. I write music for meditation and I’m a firm believer in the transformational power of music, but is artificially stimulating parts of the brain to create a pleasing response a helpful thing? Isn’t that what music is supposed to do anyway? Will we find ourselves unable to listen to anything without this device constantly pleasuring us? I’m reminded of one of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episodes where a couple are having sex and have both dialled their integrated memory system back to a previously really intense sexual experience rather than having to deal with the reality of their bored sex lives. Once we hook in, will we be able to listen to music again without it?


On the other hand, it could be a load of fun. Nervana should be released next month and will cost $299 and the world will never be the same.

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