back to article Cellphone exposure linked to changes in brain activity

US researchers have shown that less than an hour of cellphone use can significantly speed up activity in the part of the brain closest to the handset antenna, a finding that could reignite the debate over the health effects of radiation emitted by the ubiquitous devices. In a study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the …


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  1. JaitcH

    Wait whilst Cell Phone manufacturers hire their tame scientists for a response

    Seems like this is the same old - same old argument returning for recycling.

    The GSM/CDMA guys will simply go back and hire their old friendly scientists and 'fund' them for the sole purpose refuting anything that might affect the bottom line.

    Richard Branson has thoughts on this - ''A friend of mine got a brain tumor, and before he died we had dinner and he said his surgeon was convinced that using a mobile phone may have been a factor.''. See: < >

    Given that cell frequencies are approaching those of microwaves, think cooking, maybe the time has come to revisit this question. Even Plod radar speed trap operators have allegedly suffered health damage.

    Old Army radio operators who used C52 HF transmitters knew all about the effects of RF - most operators had burned fingers occasioned whilst they tuned the set to the antenna. The first people knew of the 'burning' was the smell of burned tissue rather than pain. Could it be the same all over again?

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Fears attract the scam artists?

      While phone manufacturers might be reluctant to follow up on product safety issues, there is also no shortage of fear-mongers on the other side. That website you link to recommends two products to cover the phone earpiece - one appears to be an overpriced scrap of wire mesh (wouldn't it need to be grounded to act as an effective barrier?) and the other features a "crystalline core" and a "copper induction coil". A fool and his money are soon parted. I guess those old transmitters had a higher power output.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Richard Branson slagging cellphones?

      You mean the Richard Branson who founded Virgin Mobile?

      1. Jason Hall

        Good reference site

        Hahahahah, but you missed the best one:

        "With all the time we spend in our cars, doesn't it only make sense to balance your car the same way a Feng Shui master balances your house and office? Now, with Car Shui, you can bring the power of Feng Shui directly into the controlled environment of your automobile. Each year millions of people around the world use the ancient art of Feng Shui to help..."

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Burned fingers eh?

      It's good to know that our GSM have that much power output.

      Now why not let people phone in peace? Nobody forces you to use mobile, stay with landline.

    4. Ru

      "his surgeon was convinced that using a mobile phone may have been a factor"

      So, an individual who wasn't a specialist in cancer biology or RF equipment or who had even the first idea about how the two interact jumped to a conclusion. This isn't even anecdotal evidence. So the guy died of brain cancer. I'll point out he was also a friend of Richard Branson; maybe that's what caused the tumour?

      Anyway, whilst I'm complaining... don't confuse the power outputs of old military radio and radar guns with mobile phones.

    5. Tempest

      We used to heat things up in the ...

      microwave feed to the big dish upstairs. We could still see the aircraft, too.

      A miracle.

  2. fizban

    mental health

    So could this have an impact on mental health issues like depression ?

    1. thecakeis(not)alie


      Very, VERY unlikely. The bits of your brain involved in depression aren quite simply not the bits of your brain near the cell phone antenna. The study didn't exactly clock much "deep penetration" on increased activity. In fact, the one conclusion I can draw from the whole thing is that if I built a neat cranial net that bombarded my entire head with similar frequencies, I might well be able to "overclock" the outer layers of my brain. This is highly useful: the outer layers of my brain are generally the ones that do the majority of my conscious processing.

      There is a serious chance that we are one or two studies away from “cell phones make you smarter.” Just based on some basic brain physiology, (and some napkin physics calculations,) I am seriously doubting that “cell phones make you more emotive and/or irrational” is even possible.

      I am off to create a radio emitter for my temporal lobes…

  3. Kevin Yeung
    Paris Hilton

    Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse?

    So only Crackberries are affected. Android and iPhone are safe.

    Paris, because she's affected.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Things that make you want to say "hmmmmm ..."

    "“The study is important because it documents that the human brain is sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation that is emitted by cellphones,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the NYT."

    Or maybe, just maybe, the boring idiots who would submit themselves to such a study suddenly realized that they could bore their friends & family from almost anywhere, not just standing in the kitchen hanging on to their wall-mounted Western Electric tether. Would certainly account for the added brain activity ;-)

  5. Anonymous Coward


    I can't read the full paper--only the abstract--but it sounds like the results aren't as good as one could hope for--fund^H^H^H^Hexpect more studies.

    They only tested with an active cell phone on the right side of the head, they should've separated subjects out and tested some with the active phone on the right and some on the left.

    The two areas they report finding increased metabolic rate in are mostly adjacent to each other, but they're not really the areas that are closest to where I hold a phone. I would've also expected to see a more circular area of effect with gradiation as you got farther away from the source. OTOH, if the cell phone is strong enough to zap a signal straight through your brain, then you should see an effect all over--which they did not. The abstract also doesn't mention if the increased metabolic rate was only found on the side with the activated phone.

    Perhaps being forced to sit in a chair and do nothing for two hours produces this same type of brain activity. Planning what they're going to do when they get out of the experiment perhaps.

    But that's just the abstract. Some of those were likely covered in the paper itself.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      Agreed that they likely didn't test with alternating sides of the head (left or right ears). Another thing they could have done was put the phone against unusual parts of the head (the top, or rear) as opposed to sticking it near the auditory regions. A simple wired headset attached would have accomplished this. If the affected regions shifted with the phone, be they circular or not (as a pole antenna produces a doughnut omni-directional broadcast rather than spherical), then I'd have more interest.

      As it is, the mere anticipation of a phone call could have caused the spike. A "muted" phone would still produce EM radiation, to which the brain may well be sensitive, but most likely "trained" to, having used cell phones before. Ever have that sensation of knowing you're going to get a phone call just before your phone starts ringing? Your body is likely reacting to the EMF spike of the incoming call due to some form of subconscious training. Perhaps they should try this test on some South American Rainforest tribe members that have never used a cell phone to eliminate this fringe-but-possible reaction.

  6. thecakeis(not)alie

    Cell phones make your brain work faster.

    After decades of bitching, shedloads of utter numptys to be presented with evidence that low level radio exposure actually makes people smarter. Millions of NIMBYs spontainiously convert into a pink mist of incomprehension and rage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Smarter people!

      That was my first thought when I read the article. But seeing all those presumably mobile addicted twats around it seems more likely to fry their brains. On the other hand, we do not know how loopy they'd be without their mobiles.

  7. Denarius Silver badge

    Any connection with ships sparky's ?

    GSM sets used to give me a headache inside 3 minutes, analogue phones didn't.

    I have discovered a couple of instances of others with same experience, all of us having used HF rigs professionally in past.

    I wonder if exposure to other lower frequencies has some effect that sensitises some people ?

    Something to do with calcium ion movement in cell membranes which has been observed in other studies. This ion movement "powers" the brain cells.

    Ships radio operators in the halcyon days of Marine HF (yes, I know, much much lower frequencies) were renowned for being odd, at least in the Antipodes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "GSM sets used to give me a headache inside 3 minutes, analogue phones didn't."

      Sorry, don't believe you. I believe *you* think it does.

      "Ships radio operators in the halcyon days of Marine HF (yes, I know, much much lower frequencies) were renowned for being odd, at least in the Antipodes."

      Doesn't this say something more about the type of people who become ship radio operators?

  8. Not Fred31

    Um... this research was done at least 12 years ago


    The University of Bristol carried out the same research with the same results about twelve years ago, with the same results. However, they - feasibly enough, I think - put the effect down to heat effects.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    im sorry, a what?

    positron emission tomography scan?


    sounds like something captain picard would have ordered.

    1. Stumpy

      Re:im sorry, a what?

      A PET scan ... you know, when someone comes and looks maliciously at your cat....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Educate yourself

  10. Mike Henderson

    Fifty minutes continuous talk-time

    Yes, that's right FIFTY CONSECUTIVE CONTINUOUS BLOODY MINUTES! Pardon me shouting, but WTF?

    How much effect was there after five minutes? Ten? Fifteen? None, I'd wager.

    What is the statistical distribution of call duration and inter-call gaps: whatever it is, I'll bet the median - and probably the ninety-somethingth percentile - is nowhere near fifty minutes talk time.

    Next thing, they'll 'discover' that if you drink three bottles of high-proof vodka, neat, one after the other without stopping, that it appears to have some potentially deleterious effects on health.

    FAIL, completely, utterly, absolutely, totally FAIL

  11. Tron

    ITT: Much inserting of heads in the sand.

    I love it when science geeks ignore science because they don't like the results.

    It would be a surprise if close proximity to EMR didn't affect brain function.

    You want to use the things a lot, you go right ahead. They might even make you more intelligent, although judging by the some of the chavs you see with their phones permanently attached to their ears, I doubt it.

  12. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    "Handset radiation can alter brain function"

    Yeah, it turns normal rational people into complete freaking twats when they get out of the underground stations, standing in the flipping way, checking their voicemails and texts oblivious to everyone else trying to catch the mainline home!

    Let's not start with the dipsticks who, for no reason on God's green earth, just stop dead in the street when their mobile beeps, just to check their messages!


    ( Terminator icon for good reason! )

    1. Evil Auditor

      @Fuzzy Wotnot

      If those people didn't stop dead to check their messages they would walk right into the next moving and potentially deadly vehicle or drop in a manhole. And thereby removing themselves from the gene pool...

      1. Stumpy

        @Evil Auditor

        ... and that would be bad because???. ...

        1. Jason Hall


          It wouldn't. It's just another reason to give them a push...

  13. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    The "not heat" argument seems odd

    "increase was unlikely to be associated with heat from the handset because the activity occurred near the antenna, rather than where the phone touched the head." When I hold my phone, the bit nearest my brain IS where it touches my head. I don't know where the antenna is in mine, but it can't be closer than that. I'd have though a better control would an phone with the antenna disconnected so it doesn't broadcast, but the phone is still on, to generate the heat.

    And they definitely should have had left/right crossovers.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    RF effects, or low-frequency magnetics?

    It is well-known that GSM phones pulse their transmissions at 216Hz (hence the familiar buzzing interference heard on nearby PC/audio systems). This switching of the transmitter (1on to 7 off duty-cycle) causes significant pulsing of the current drawn from the battery (as much as an amp or so if in a weak-signal area), hence a pulsing magnetic field from the power-wiring inside the phone.

    I think it's well-known that pulsed magnetic fields affect brain activity (see for example, Wikipedia TMS).

    I wonder if the researchers have actually taken steps to isolate magnetic effects from the rather less-plausible RF effects?

  15. iRadiate

    50 minutes of continous phone use ?

    Do people really hold a phone up to their ears for 50 minutes at a time?

    My conversations last a few minutes. If I'm on a conference call then I put the phone on speaker.

    Even if the study is accurate, I can't see it affecting the brains of the vast majority of normal users.

    Probably more risk of getting repetitive sprain injury from texting than you have of frying your brain.

  16. Steve Martins

    cellphones make you smarter...

    The brain works on electric potentials, such that when many neurons fire synchronously, the local potential is raised to a threshold at which the pathways are reinforced (something to do with enzymes and stuff), thus creating associative memory. I saw a study where an electric potential was applied to the head to increase this effect, making people learn quicker. The researcher measured a small increase in the speed of learning as I recall, so a mobile phone signal is possibly having a similar potential raising effect, so maybe phones CAN make you smarter!

    I wonder, does that mean we remember mobile phone conversations better than landline calls?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old! Also: Inverse Square Law!

    If you hold a 'phone to your head you are indeed pumping small amounts of energy into it. If you use hands-free, you're not.

    Note also that there's no evidence that this has any adverse effect or that this research applies in any way to 'phone masts.

  18. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Experimental protocol

    Let's see if I follow. Technically, the people weren't making a phone call. They were sat down with the phone next to their head for 50 minutes and switched off - so not actually doing anything except for insulating your head - and then again with it switched on and receiving a "muted" phone call that they could not actually hear.

    That seems like a good way to test it except that it is unnatural. Actually when you are on the phone, you are listening and also talking, and the brain regions that perform those functions will be stimulated anyway. But generally it's a good test, if they also didn't cheat and also if the experimenters themselves didn't know the answer and unconsciously transmit it to the players, like in the story of "Clever Hans" the arithmetic horse (real - or so we're told). For that matter, the "muted" phone might be still gently buzzing, or something. Try ear plugs.

    Likewise, early mobile phones had poorer sound quality and reliability than local landline phones. That in itself might give you a headache to listen to. Then again, it could also cause physical harm, e.g. blood pressure goes up whenever the phone stops working.

    As for running it for fifty minutes, presumably a less detectable effect appears when doing the same thing for a shorter time, that could be causing brain damage (or could be repairing it) but is harder to measure.

  19. HMB

    Hats can alter brain activity

    Apparently hat's can alter the temperature in your brain.

    I'm personally more worried about hat induced cancer.

  20. Tigra 07
    Thumb Down

    Good luck to 'em

    Still doesn't prove their assumptions though.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So what part of the brain *is* close the right ear and left ear?

    Brain function is localised to a certain extent. What areas are being stimulated?

  22. wilgeman
    Black Helicopters

    Guess there is a use for...

    Tinfoil hats!

  23. techmind

    Voice Activity Detection

    And another thing: the phone transmits far less if the phone is in a silent or near-speech-free environment. Only when you start speaking does it transmit at full-pelt. If the "user" was silent for the test-protocol as suggested by Robert Carnegiem then this wouldn't be a realistic test anyway.

    If you want to see how this works, listen to the interference made by the phone when you are silent versus talking (but take care that the phone microphone doesn't "hear" the audio interference as this will create a feedback loop and upset the experiment).

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge


      A better experiment would be a long interview or quiz game conducted either on a landline phone or on mobile - unless, as someone else sort of said, that stimulates parts of the brain with a result of making it hard to detect an effect of the phone itself.

      The optic nerves go more or less straight into the braIn, but I don't know about the ears... Wikipedia tells me that the auditory-vestibular nerve is attached to the brainstem, but the bible tells me that James I was King of France as well as Scotland England etc, so how do you know what to believe?

  24. Count Ludwig

    Depends what is being said

    50 mins on the phone causes altered brain activity? I'm not surprised.

    Could be due to what is being said - or could be due to frustration at spending 50mins in a helpline queue listening to muzak.

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