Are mobile phones affecting cognitive function?

Children & Mobiles (Inside)

With the present widespread proliferation of cellular phones in our lives today, it is impossible to ignore the benefits of electromagnetic radio frequencies that enable instantaneous communication worldwide. Their huge popularity, evidenced by ever increasing subscribers, extends to children as well, leading to a generation that will have the greatest exposure yet not just to such an enhanced form of communication but also the radio frequencies (RFs) on which it functions. The foundation of these wondrous devices, and the infrastructure that supports them, rests on body-penetrating microwave RFs that have been confirmed – through multiple peer-reviewed studies – to cause lasting cognitive and other bodily damage. Children and young adolescents, with their different head shapes and thinner skulls than adults, are susceptible to this form of radiation in particular [1], as an Australian epidemiological study observed in 2009.

Due to mobile phone exposure, preceding studies have found modifications in young adults’ cognitive ability [2], shorter reaction times in performing tasks [3], and an increased likelihood of behavioural difficulties in children beginning school and those who were more likely to have been exposed pre- or post-natally to mobile phones. Conducted in 2009, the study, comprised of 317 students between the ages of 11-14 from 20 different Melbourne schools and with a 46:54 male-female ratio, correlated the effects between increased cellular phone usage and cognitive functions – such as working memory, signal detection, simple and associative learning, and movement estimation/monitoring.

In the 2009 study, of the 317 participating students, 77% owned a mobile phone and 94% had used one. From the questionnaire, found in the appendix of the published article, completed by participating students, the research team drew parallels between shorter response times for the simple and associated learning tasks for those students reporting a larger volume of calls each week. While this may seem like good news at first, they performed less accurately on exercises assessing their working memory, with working memory accuracy stronger for the boys. Similar cognitive impairments were found for students who used SMS more frequently and, overall, simple and associative learning tasks were more accurate in students who used a mobile less regularly. A higher correlation between mobile usage and inferior accuracy on memory and learning tasks, coupled with faster reaction times, implies that those children may be more impulsive because of mobile usage, sacrificing the accuracy of a solution for swiftness.

Interestingly, this same impulsive behaviour also is found in children associated to pre- and post-natal RF exposure. In terms of speed over accuracy in those using the SMS service, it is possible that the effect of reduced RF exposure due to SMS, which uses similar transmission techniques but, crucially, is held away from the head, is mitigated by students using ‘predictive texting’. As mentioned earlier, studies investigating the effect of mobile phone usage have related the development of cognitive impairments when the exposure time is greater. An increased number of calls bring the phone closer to the brain in proportion, resulting in the risk of tumours and other undesirable brain growth. With children being particularly susceptible to prolonged exposure, perhaps parents can be more aware of these effects and wait to give their children a phone – a prized possession in the modern, status-oriented child – until they are much older.

For more information relating to the specific methodology and tests, please explore the original article (note that you may need the Adobe Reader plug-in enabled on your browser): Mobile use is associated with changes in cognitive function in young adolescents


[1] Kheifets L et al. (2005). The sensitivity of children to electromagnetic fields. Pediatrics 116(2): e303-13

[2] Croft et al. (2008). The effect of mobile phone electromagnetic field on the alpha rhythm of human electroencephalogram. Bioelectromagnetics 29(1): 1-10.

[3] Preece et al. (2005). Effect of 902 MHz mobile phone transmission on cognitive function in children. Bioelectromagnetics 26(Suppl 7): S138-43


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