An examination of the proton chemical shift chart (above) makes it clear that the inductive effect of substituents cannot account for all the differences in proton signals. In particular the low field resonance of hydrogens bonded to double bond or aromatic ring carbons is puzzling, as is the very low field signal from aldehyde hydrogens. The hydrogen atom of a terminal alkyne, in contrast, appears at a relatively higher field. All these anomalous cases seem to involve hydrogens bonded to pi-electron systems, and an explanation may be found in the way these pi-electrons interact with the applied magnetic field.
Pi-electrons are more polarizable than are sigma-bond electrons, as addition reactions of electrophilic reagents to alkenes testify. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that field induced pi-electron movement produces strong secondary fields that perturb nearby nuclei. The pi-electrons associated with a benzene ring provide a striking example of this phenomenon, as shown below. The electron cloud above and below the plane of the ring circulates in reaction to the external field so as to generate an opposing field at the center of the ring and a supporting field at the edge of the ring. This kind of spatial variation is called anisotropy, and it is common to nonspherical distributions of electrons, as are found in all the functions mentioned above. Regions in which the induced field supports or adds to the external field are said to be deshielded, because a slightly weaker external field will bring about resonance for nuclei in such areas. However, regions in which the induced field opposes the external field are termed shielded because an increase in the applied field is needed for resonance. Shielded regions are designated by a plus sign, and deshielded regions by a negative sign.
The anisotropy of some important unsaturated functions will be displayed by clicking on the benzene diagram below. Note that the anisotropy about the triple bond nicely accounts for the relatively high field chemical shift of ethynyl hydrogens. The shielding & deshielding regions about the carbonyl group have been described in two ways, which alternate in the display.
For additional examples of chemical shift variation near strongly anisotropic groups Click Here.
Sigma bonding electrons also have a less pronounced, but observable, anisotropic influence on nearby nuclei. This is seen in the small deshielding shift that occurs in the series CH3–R, R–CH2–R, R3CH; as well as the deshielding of equatorial versus axial protons on a fixed cyclohexane ring.