The History of Research at the Monroe Institute
The Monroe Institute has a rich, 30+ year history of being one of the leading research and education institutes dedicated to the study of human consciousness. The following provides an overview of the history of TMI research and research affiliations.
The Early Years: 1956-1979
TMI founder Robert “Bob” Monroe was born in Indiana in 1915 to a college professor father and medical doctor mother and raised in Lexington, Kentucky. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1937 with a BA in English, Monroe began a career in radio, first working as a writer, director, and producer of radio programs, and then eventually forming his own radio production and cable television companies.
In 1956, Monroe’s firm set up a research and development division to study the effects of various sound patterns on human consciousness, in particular the feasibility of learning during sleep. In 1958, while using himself as a test subject, Monroe began to experience states of consciousness in which he felt himself separating from his physical body—what he described as an "out of body experience." Wanting to learn more about these and other unusual experiences, Monroe began experimenting with expanded states of consciousness, eventually chronicling his experiences in the book trilogy, Journeys Out of the Body, Far Journeys, and Ultimate Journey.
While originally motivated by the study of out-of-body experiences, Monroe’s interest in altered states of consciousness expanded to include other related phenomena such as channeling, working with spirit guides, and so on. He was hopeful that one day the scientific community at large would become much more interested in and accepting of this field of study. Wanting to take his research to a more scientifically rigorous level, Monroe sought out “professionally qualified hard-core science and engineering types who could help him do proper research that would be acceptable to other scientists” (Russell, p. 87). Over the course of his work, Monroe collaborated with such consciousness researchers as Charles Tart, Russell Targ, Hal Putoff, Stanley Krippner, Stanislav Grof, Edgar Mitchell, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, amongst others.
Monroe also worked regularly with a group of professionals (among them a physicist, electronics engineer, social services executive, transpersonal psychologist, office manager, and psychiatric counselor) who felt both professionally and personally motivated to explore the realms of human consciousness and its potentials. In the late 1970s, at the original research facility in Whistlefield, Virginia, Monroe and this group of “Explorers” began to experiment with using sound technologies as a means of inducing various states of consciousness. Originally called Whistlefield Research Laboratories and later renamed, The Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences, the Whistlefield lab included a control room, a debriefing room, and three electromagnetically shielded chambers outfitted with speakers, a microphone, and physiological measuring units (along with offices, a bathroom and a kitchen). Explorers would lie down in the booths and listen to the audio signal combinations Monroe played each of them via stereo headsets. While in the booth, the Explorers would report on their experiences so that Monroe could determine which sounds correlated with which experiences. On occasion, two or three of the Explorers would “travel” together to nonphysical realities and then report back, sometimes sharing their experience separately, sometimes together. Bob also recorded the physiological experiences of each Explorer via galvanic skin response (GSR) readouts, which gave him even more data about how the Explorers were responding to the particular sounds combinations. Included in this group was Monroe’s stepdaughter Nancy “Scooter” Honeycutt who had helped Monroe start the Institute and who wore many hats at the Institute over a 12+ year period, from secretary to trainer, to public speaker for the Institute. Years later, upon Monroe’s request, she became Director of the Institute, a position she held for seven years.
The sound technology that Monroe and his Explorer team experimented with was based on the work of H.W. Dove, who in 1839 discovered that when two pure tones of slightly different frequencies are presented, one in each ear, the brain perceives the phase difference between these signals as a wavering sound. While under natural circumstances this phase difference provides directional information intended to help orient the listener in space, when presented using headphones or appropriately arranged stereo speakers, the brain creates and perceives a third or “phantom” tone (the wavering sound) referred to as a “binaural beat.” About a century and a half later, Dove’s discovery attracted the attention of Gerald Oster, who theorized that the perception of binaural beats could be used as a means of investigating the brain’s processes. Oster’s work inspired Monroe and the Explorers to investigate using binaural beats to induce altered states of consciousness. They discovered that when combined with the other consciousness altering techniques—such as sitting in a reduced sensory-information environment (such as a darkened room), social-psychological conditioning tools (such as group communitas), and educational curriculum (in which new cognitive, “consciousness expansion” skills are learned)—these binaural beat mixes led to profound states of expanded awareness and altered consciousness. Based the Explorers’ success using binaural beats in order to facilitate altered state experiences, Monroe patented the audio-guidance technology that would later be called Hemi-Sync®(i) and developed the various exercises that would be used at the Institute for the next several decades[ii].
Binaural Beat Research: 1979-1995
In 1979, Monroe purchased 800 acres of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County, Virginia. There, on “Roberts Mountain” (already thusly named prior to his purchase), he reopened The Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences, where the Institute sits today. The first of the buildings constructed for use as an education and research institute included a residential center and a research laboratory. Soon after, the first residential programs began.
In 1982, the Institute’s “Professional Division” was established, consisting of a group of scientists and practitioners from varying disciplines who used the Institute’s audio-guidance tapes and other consciousness-altering techniques with their clients, patients, and students and who were dedicated to forwarding the goals and interests of the Institute. The contributions of professional members and outside researchers studying binaural beat audio-guidance technology contributed (and still contribute) greatly to the Institute’s database of research, providing a wealth of information that would not have been possible for TMI staff to do on their own. Around this time, doctors began experimenting with the use of his Surgical Support Series tapes during surgery with positive results. These and similar studies were published in Breakthrough, the Institute’s newsletter, which was created to report on the many applications of the Institute’s audio-guidance technology. Later, the Institute’s semi-annual journal, The Bulletin, was created as a forum for the public as a whole to comment on their use of Monroe technology, more personal, experiential, anecdotal accounts, as well as informational articles and updates on programs and products.
Due to the rapidly increasing interest in the Institute’s technology, new staff members were hired and new exercises developed to address the various requests from researchers and practitioners interested in utilizing binaural beat technologies in their work. Later that same year, the US military began to take an interest in the Institute. A few years earlier, in 1979, U.S. Army officers F. Holmes “Skip” Atwater and the renowned “psychic spy” Joe McMoneagle had come to Roberts Mountain to talk with Monroe about his experiences and research. In 1982, McMoneagle returned to the Institute and participated in the first of two of the Institute’s programs (and then attending a second in 1983). Both programs were taught by Monroe’s stepdaughter, Nancy, who later married McMoneagle. Having discovered that the skills acquired during these programs benefitted McMoneagle’s remote-viewing abilities, the U.S. Army’s “Star Gate” administrators (who, at the time, were utilizing McMoneagle’s remote viewing skills for intelligence purposes) contracted Monroe to work with McMoneagle under Atwater’s supervision. Monroe’s program trainers gave three re-designed Gateway Programs called RAPT (“Rapid Acquisition Personnel Training)” Programs for INSCOM (Intelligence & Security Command) personnel.). That same year, an Army psychologist organized a project at the Defense Department Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison to see if the Institute’s technology would enhance learning abilities (see articles by Waldkoetter & Vandivier, 1992; Waldkoetter & Milligan, 1978,; Waldkoetter, 1983,). Despite the promising results of both projects, all U.S. military involvement was eventually terminated. However, McMoneagle and Atwater continued to be involved with Monroe’s research of a personal basis. After retiring from the Army in 1987, Atwater came to work for the Institute, first as a technical consultant, then as Research Director, and then in his current position as President.
In 1983, the first of what would become the biennial Professional Seminar took place at the Institute at which Professional Members could also present the results of their research and work. At the seminar Monroe emphasized the importance of producing research papers for publication in professional journals on the applications of the audio-guidance technology using strict scientific methodologies. A board of advisors, the majority of its members holding PhDs, was established around this same time.
In 1984, a reduced sensory stimulation booth was installed in the main research lab. The “black box,” as it was called then, consisted of a copper shielded, soundproof chamber, which contained a saline-filled flotation mattress and was equipped with an audio monitoring unit so that the individual in the booth and the facilitator in the control room could speak back and forth. Research participants were often hooked up to physiological monitoring equipment, with electrodes placed on their fingers to provide the facilitator with readings on body temperature, galvanic skin response, and skin potential voltage. Similar equipment continues to be used today in the Personal Resources Exploration Program (PREP) sessions—a personalized, self-guided, focus-level journey that uses TMI sound technology and the voice of a facilitator to help the individual move into progressively deeper states of consciousness. The PREP session was introduced in 1989 as an aspect of the Guidelines program.
In 1985, The Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences became a non-profit organization and was renamed The Monroe Institute. That same year, Monroe published his second book, Far Journeys, in which he included an account of his research at Whistlefield and some of the reports by the Explorers and participants of the early Gateway programs. Like his first book, Journeys Out of the Body, Far Journeys included detailed descriptions of Monroe’s continued explorations within altered states of consciousness. It also included a number of theories that he held regarding the nature of human consciousness.
Considering it important to attain scientific validations regarding the physiological effects of his binaural beat mixes on the brain, in 1988 Monroe and his Explorers continued their research into the effects of binaural beats through the use of specialized technology that converted the output of a 20-channel EEG into a color-contour map of the electrical activity of the brain. The equipment converted the electrical information of the brain into a computer-readable form, making it possible to analyze the information and display the results in a two-dimensional stylized color oval image of the head. Monroe had some ambivalence regarding attempts to validate experiences of altered states through these kinds of physiological recordings of the brain changes, in part because he was concerned that if science could explain it, it might also try to explain it away. His ambivalence about the technology itself led to a similar hesitancy in working with outside researchers. In accordance with a policy he framed himself, during Monroe’s lifetime, almost all research took place in-house at the Institute[iii].
Monroe explained his feelings about the purpose of the Institute’s research in this way:
All research conducted by The Monroe Institute is directed solely toward the development of methods and techniques that will aid others in the evolution and growth of human consciousness and perception. The Institute uses conventional scientific procedures whenever feasible but does not limit itself to such processes.
Thus much of our research has not been designed to conduct studies in form and protocol that will insure acceptance by orthodox segments of our culture. The Institute has recognized long ago that such efforts may not be possible within the area of investigation covered in our work.
Conversely, when we do find data that may be of interest to conventional research groups, we are happy to release such information in the hope and expectation that it will be of help or interest to others in their particular area of endeavor. We also encourage other organizations to conduct studies that may offer additional or extended verification of our own work (Russell, p. 314).
The Institute A.B. (After Bob): 1995-2006
Monroe’s third book, Ultimate Journey, was published just prior to his death. When Monroe died in 1995, at the age of 79, his daughter, Laurie Monroe, took over as president of the Institute. Laurie Monroe felt strongly that it was time for the Institute to become a major player in the field of consciousness research. As such, this period of time in the Institute’s research history was characterized by greater inclusiveness and a more public face to the Institute’s research initiatives.
TMI research over the course of this decade focused primarily on three distinct areas of research: (1) clinical and applied research done by the Institute’s professional membership, (2) research done at universities and hospitals, and (3) applied and technical research done on-site at the Institute. In the late 1990s there was a dramatic increase in interest within the scientific community in investigating the physiological responses to binaural beats and/or getting an overview of how binaural beat technologies influence the behavior and psychology of specific populations. In 1997, TMI’s first peer-reviewed paper, entitled, “Accessing Anomalous States of Consciousness with a Binaural Beat Technology” was published in Journal for Scientific Exploration (Atwater, 1997). This was followed by numerous other binaural beat studies that appeared in such peer-reviewed journals as Physiology & Behavior (Lane, Kasian, Owens, & Marsh, 1998), The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research (Atwater, 1999), The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, and others. In addition, the Institute’s research journal (originally named Breakthrough, then renamed Hemi-Sync Journal, and then, finally, TMI Journal) continued to publish the outcomes of professional members’ research. The Institute’s experiential journal, The Bulletin, was renamed TMI Focus and is today available as downloadable PDF documents on the Institute's website.
The Institute’s physical campus mirrored this greater expansiveness and inclusion. In 1997, a second residential facility was created in the former residence of Bob and Nancy Monroe just up the mountain from the main campus, and was outfitted with a second lab containing another isolation booth and state-of-the-art audio and physiological monitoring equipment.
TMI Research Today: 2006-
When Laurie Monroe died in 2006, Skip Atwater took over as President of the Institute and, the following year, program facilitator Paul Rademacher came on as Executive Director. Assessing what had already been accomplished at the Institute and what areas promised new discoveries, the two began to envision a new phase of research at the Institute. While in the previous decade Institute researchers and others had focused primarily on studies that used “objective” quantitative methods like laboratory experiments and numerical methods in order to assess the physiological and behavioral effects of altered state experiences (particularly those induced by binaural beat technologies), their feeling was that the next phase of the Institute’s research initiatives should focus primarily on shedding light on the qualitative, subjective experience of individuals as they enter into and make meaning out of altered state experiences. While quantitative research would continue to be supported and encouraged, no longer would the Institute’s research interest be on proving whether or not the Institute’s sound technologies alter brainwave states, but, rather, “on the far reaching implications of the evolution of human consciousness that have been the core of our work all along” (Russell, p. 314).
As Atwater explained it,
While reducing everything to [physiological correlates and] numbers may be justified in the physical sciences, doing the same to human experience seems to dismiss the other, non-quantitative dimensions of that experience. How do you quantify meaning, for example, of love, or anger, or confusion? You can describe the Grand Canyon using only numbers—but somehow that wouldn't capture the essence of it. With quantitative research, in order to find the relationship between two variables all others must be controlled, whether by a reduction of actual variety, or by the establishment of control groups, or by statistically factoring out other variables. But how do you control the lifetime of events that a person brings to a Hemi-Sync experience? What is the significance of a causal relation that does not occur independently outside the laboratory? And do results established by examining group tendencies then apply to individuals? Control is problematic in complex physical systems; imagine the problem with human beings.
At TMI we must not be concerned with explanations of what the phenomenon "really" might be. We must use qualitative research so the phenomena of consciousness exploration can flourish whilst a knowledge base grows.” (The Monroe Institute, n.d.)
In 2006, Atwater compiled the Institute’s first qualitative research study entitled, “The Starlines Report,” which analyzed the subjective reports of 101 participants from five Starlines programs using an interpretive, phenomenological methodological approach and considered questions such as, “What are the relationships between awareness, being, and physical expression as we move into harmony with cosmic patterns?” and “What is the interplay between consciousness and the physical world?” Less than two years later, researcher Cam Danielson (2008) completed the first of his two-part, mixed qualitative and quantitative longitudinal study that looked at the long-term benefits of participating in the Institute’s graduate level programs. Part One of the study utilized quantitative data gathering techniques such as online surveys and personality assessment tests, while Part Two (Danielson, 2010) focused on narrative forms of data gathering in order to create a picture of the individual’s lives, shedding light on the influence of Monroe Institute graduate programs on the participants as well as how the Institute could best work with these and future program participants to increase program efficacy.
All this has set the stage for the new research approach to be taken by the Institute in its mission to bring the Institute into the 21st century, continuing Monroe’s mission to advance the study of consciousness by bringing it into popular and scientific discussion. With the hiring of a new research director in the summer of 2010 and a number of strengthening affiliations and collaborations with other research institutes involved in the study of human consciousness, The Monroe Institute has begun a new phase of its research history, one that places high value on the sharing of data, experimental methodologies, and, above all, the acquisition of knowledge that can lead to practical applications, thus providing something of value to contemporary culture[iv]. We are proud to continue Bob Monroe’s vision through our in-house research projects and through collaborations with independent and institutionally affiliated researchers from the many diverse areas of consciousness research.
Atwater, F. H. (1997). Accessing anomalous states of consciousness with a binaural beat technology. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11(3), 263-274.
Atwater, F. H. (1999). Brain waves and oxygen saturation during an ancient religious ceremony. Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, (22)3, 123-133.
Atwater, S. (2006). The Starlines report. Unpublished document. Available through The Monroe Institute.
Brady, B. and Steven, L. (2000). Binaural-beat induced theta EEG activity and hynotic susceptibility. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (43)1, 53-69.
Danielson, C. (2008). Program benefits study 1. Retrieved September 24, 2010 from Program Benefits Study 1
Danielson, C. (2010). Program benefits study 2. Retrieved September 24, 2010 from Program Benefits Study 2
Lane, J. D., Kasian, S. J, Owens, J. E., Marsh, G. R. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiology & Behavior, (63)2, 249-252.
Russell, R. (2007). The journey of Robert Monroe: From out-of-body explorer to consciousness pioneer. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads.
The Monroe Institute. The Monroe Institute methodology. Retrieved September 22, 2010 from Overview of Research at The Monroe Institute.
Waldkoetter, R. O., and Vandivier, P. L. (1992). Auditory guidance in officer level training. Paper presented at the 34th Annual Conference of the Military Testing Association, San Diego CA.
Waldkoetter, R. O., Rubak, J. Myers, R. A., & Vandivier, P. L. (n.d.). Auditory guidance in officer level training.
Waldkoetter, R. O., & Milligan, J. R. (1978). A learning-receptive state as induced by an auditory signal or frequency pulse. Paper presented at the 20th Annual Conference of the Military Testing Association, Oklahoma City, OK, 1978.
Waldkoetter, R.O. (1983). The use of audio guided stress reduction to enhance performance. Paper presented at the 25th Annual Conference of the Military Testing Association, Gulf Shores, AL, 1983.
(i) Over the years, advocates of binaural beat technologies (as well as some marketing strategists) have presumed that these binaural beat patterns brought about brainwave synchronization between the cortical hemispheres. However, Monroe never claimed that binaural-beat technology causes brain hemisphere synchronization. Rather, he called his audio-guidance technology “Hemi-Sync®” based on the understanding that right and left olivary nuclei (the audio-processing centers in the two hemispheres of the brain) work together in order to detect the phase difference between the two audio inputs, thereby creating the binaural-beat phenomenon.
[iii] For a more in-depth look at the life and work of Bob Monroe, The Monroe Institute’s research history, and details regarding the development of the educational programs, we highly recommend Ronald Russell’s biography The Journey of Robert Monroe.