Does acute exposure to mobile phones affect human attention?
ABSTRACT Recent studies have indicated that acute exposure to low level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phones affects human cognition. However, the relatively small samples used, in addition to methodological problems, make the outcomes of these studies difficult to interpret. In our study we tested a large sample of volunteers (168) using a series of cognitive tasks apparently sensitive to RF exposure (a simple reaction task, a vigilance task, and a subtraction task). Participants performed those tasks twice, in two different sessions. In one session they were exposed to RFs, with half of subjects exposed to GSM signals and the other half exposed to CW signals, while in the other session they were exposed to sham signals. No significant effects of RF exposure on performance for either GSM or CW were found, independent of whether the phone was positioned on the left or on the right side.
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ABSTRACT: Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a 217 Hz magnetic field of mobile phone GSM 900 exposure on the bioelectric activity of F1 neuronal cells of the land snail. Materials and Methods: According to the magnetic field measurement of the mobile phone, a range of flux intensities of magnetic fields (0.46 -229 μT) at a frequency of 217 Hz was produced by magnetic field coils. The bioelectrical activity of F1 nerve cells at different time intervals was recorded, using intracellular recording under current clamp conditions in con-trol, sham and field exposed groups. Results: Magnetic field exposure decreased the amplitude of action potential and the firing frequency of F1 nerve cells. Furthermore, it resulted in a significant (p<0.05) increase in the amplitude of after hyperpolarization (AHP) and duration of action potential. Change in the cell's electrophysiological parameters was associated with a decrease in neuronal excit-ability. Magnetic field exposure affected also the resting membrane potential of F1 cells in a bimodal fashion, including depolarization and hyperpolarization. Considering the exposure condition, most of the alterations in the electrical activity of F1 nerve cells induced by mag-netic fields exposure were reversible. Conclusion: These findings suggest that 217 Hz magnetic fields of mobile phones with dif-ferent intensities affect the spontaneous bioelectrical activity of F1 nerve cells and exert in-hibitory effects on neuronal excitability. There is evidence for the existence of an amplitude window and these electrophysiological alterations occur within this amplitude window. The reversibility of the magnetic field-induced most electrophysiological alterations in the neuro-nal behavior under our experimental conditions was observed.
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ABSTRACT: Research on long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields on cognition is lacking. We investigated the associations between frequent digital mobile phone use and global and domain-specific cognitive changes in older persons, a vulnerable group experiencing age-associated cognitive decline. We assessed 871 non-demented Chinese participants in the Singapore Longitudinal Ageing Studies cohort on the frequency of digital mobile phone use, neurocognitive performance and confounding variables at baseline, and neurocognitive performance at the 4-year follow-up. Findings showed that digital mobile phone users were typically self-selected to possess characteristics favoring better cognitive functioning and concomitantly demonstrate better performance on cognitive tasks. There was evidently no significant deleterious effect of digital mobile phone use on cognitive functioning in older people. Findings suggest, however, that digital mobile phone use may have an independent facilitating effect on global and executive functioning. Bioelectromagnetics 33:176–185, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.Bioelectromagnetics 02/2012; 33(2). · 1.86 Impact Factor
Costall, 2003; Curcio et al., 2004]. However, a serious
question concerns whether the observed effects are
genuine. In one study [Preece et al., 1999], 36 volunte-
ers performed a series of cognitive tests while exposed
to RF fields generated by analogue and GSM phones
operating at about 900 MHz, as well as to a control
condition without RF exposure. When exposed to the
by GSM digital phones, people were faster in a two-
Does Acute Exposureto Mobile Phones Affect
Riccardo Russo,1* Elaine Fox,1Caterina Cinel,1Angela Boldini,1Margaret A. Defeyter,1
Dariush Mirshekar,2and Amith Mehta2
1DepartmentofPsychology, UniversityofEssex,Colchester, UnitedKingdom
2DepartmentofElectronic SystemsEngineering, UniversityofEssex, Colchester,
Recent studies have indicated that acute exposure to low level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic
fields generated by mobile phones affects human cognition. However, the relatively small samples
used inaddition tomethodological problemsmake the outcomesof these studiesdifficult tointerpret.
In our study we tested a large sample of volunteers (168) using a series of cognitive tasks apparently
sensitive to RF exposure (a simple reaction task, a vigilance task (VT), and a subtraction task).
the left or on the right side. Bioelectromagnetics 00:1–6, 2005.
? 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Key words: GSM; RF; cognitive tests; behavioral effects
Mobile telephone antennae emit low level radio-
frequency bands starting from about 900 MHz. These
fields may exert a force on the electric charges of body
tissues located close to the emitting source, which,
while not significantly increasing the temperature of
may affect the normal functioning of brain tissue [e.g.,
Cleary, 1995]. Hence, it has been suggested that acute
affect human cognition.
mobile communication (GSM) mobile phones posi-
[Preece et al., 1999; Koivisto et al., 2000a,b; Edelstyn
and Oldershaw, 2002; Lee et al., 2003; Smythe and
choice reaction time task (CRT) compared to the
control condition. No significant difference between
exposure and control conditions occurred in any of the
other cognitive tasks used. Similarly, another study
dozen cognitive tests, therewas a significant difference
in performance between the exposure to GSM mobile
phones condition and the control condition only in
three tests, that is, a simple reaction time task (SRT),
a subtraction task, and a vigilance task (VT). However,
it is possible that these findings might reflect a statis-
tical artifact, since the probability of wrongly rejecting
a true null hypothesis in the family of statistical tests
performed within each of the above studies was
relatively high (i.e., >0.05). Moreover, in other studies
Grant sponsor: The Mobile Telecommunications and Health
Research Programme; Grant number: RUM9.
*Correspondence to: Riccardo Russo, Department of Psychology,
University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK.
Received for review 8 February 2005; Final revision received 19
Published online in Wiley InterScience
This potential lateralized effect has not been examined
in any previous study.
present study, any failure to reject the null hypothesis
cannot be attributed to a lack of statistical sensitivity.
Moreover, to assess if there is any differential effect of
GSM modulated versus CW unmodulated signals, half
of the participants were exposed to an 888 MHz CW
signal and the remaining half were exposed to an
888 MHz GSM signal. Importantly, RF exposure was
administered under fully double blind conditions.
Furthermore, half of the participants were tested with
the significant results obtained may have reflected poor
matching of the baseline performance between control
and exposure conditions [Edelstyn and Oldershaw,
2002; Lee et al., 2003]; type I statistical error [Smythe
and Costall, 2003; Curcio et al., 2004]; small sample
a speed-accuracy trade-off [Koivisto et al., 2000a].
Only two studies found no significant effect of RF field
exposure on any of the cognitive tasks used [Haarala
et al., 2003, 2004].
Given the widespread and increasing use of
mobile phone technology around the world, it is vital
to determine whether the RF fields emitted by these
firm conclusions on this question, since none of the
studies which found significant findings, apart from
Curcio et al. , used a double blind design in
administering RF exposure and control conditions.
Hence, it is possible that a non-optimal administration
of the independent variable may have led to spurious
significant findings [cf. Haarala et al., 2003, 2004].
emitted by mobile phones, either GSM or analogue,
might affect performance in cognitive tasks remains
The aim of the present research was to overcome
the limitations of previous studies in order to provide a
thorough evaluation of the impact of the use of GSM
and analogue continuous wave (CW) unmodulated
signal mobile phones on attention in adults. To max-
imize the chance of detecting a significant effect of
acute exposure to RF fields, we selected some of the
tasks that previous studies [e.g., Koivisto et al., 2000b;
Curcio et al., 2004] found were affected by RF
exposure, that is, a SRT, a subtraction task, and a VT.
To ensure high statistical power 168 volunteers were
tested. Assuming that RF exposure (irrespectively of
this being associated to GSM or CW signals, and
on cognitive performance, that is, effect size, d¼0.3,
0.97 to reject a false null hypothesis about the RF
exposure effect. Hence, given the large power of the
the mobile phone positioned on their left ear, and the
MATERIALS AND METHODS
One hundred and sixty-eight healthy volunteers
(99 women, 69 men; average age¼23.5 years; range
tested in two different sessions, 1 week apart; each
day. Participants were students of the University of
Essex recruited through advertisements in the campus;
each participant was paid 10 Pounds Sterling. In one
session participants were exposed to RF fields: a
random half of the participants to GSM modulated
signal and the other half to CW unmodulated signal,
both at 888 MHz; the phones (discontinuous trans-
exposure. In that case the power, either in GSM or CW,
was actually diverted to an internal load of the phone.
Half of the participants were exposed to RF on the first
session with the no-exposure condition on the second
session, and vice-versa for the other half. Both
participants and experimenters were blind to the on-
mobile phone users, 35% did use a mobile phone for
about 5 min or less on average per day, and the
A mobile phone was fixed on a ‘‘cage/cap’’ that
was mounted on the head of each participant. The
handset device was positioned on the head so that
the telephone microphone was close to the mouth and
the antenna was touching or very close to the head,
above and slightly behind the ear. The mobile phone
was on the left side of the head for half participants and
on the right for the other half, irrespective of the
handedness of participants.
The mobile phone could emit GSM modulated
and CW unmodulated signals at 888 MHz as well as a
(SAR) in the present study was the same for both CW
and GSM signals with SAR within the International
Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
guidelines. The average SAR in both modes was
1.4 W/Kg (?30%). For the GSM mode the peak SAR
2Russo et al.
display with the subtraction disappeared as soon as an
This task always followed the 10-CRT task. Eighty
trials were randomly presented.
In the VT a single capital letter from a pool of
15 different letters was presented for 200 ms. Each
participant had to press the space bar on the computer
appeared, while no response had to be given when
any other letter appeared. The inter-stimulus interval
was presented with 360 trials of which 72 (20%) were
Once the experimental tasks were completed, the
phone set was removed and participants were once
again given the questionnaire on subjective symptoms;
the data on subjective symptoms and mobile phone use
will be reported in a future study; each session lasted
about 50 min. However participants were actually
exposed to RFs for about 35–40 min. The order of the
on- or off-exposure conditions and the order of
presentation of the experimental tasks were counter-
balanced across participants. The procedures used in
this study complied with the relevant safeguards and
regulations in place for studies testing human partic-
ipants at the University of Essex and the study was
In the 10-choice reaction time task (10-CRT)
participants had to read aloud into a microphone a one-
digit number (any number from 0 to 9) randomly
displayed. The number disappeared as soon as the
response was given and the next number appeared 1 s
after the verbal answer. After practice (i.e., 10 trials), a
block of 80 trials was presented. In the subtraction task
the no exposure condition was less than 0.002 W/Kg.
The above features correspond to the approved
exposure system made for the Mobile Telecommuni-
cation and Health Research Programme (http://
human_exposure.htm) in the UK. The measurements
were made in a phantom head over a 36 by 17
measurement grid with 5 mm spacing, using the
standard CENELEC (The European Committee for
Electrotecnhical Standardization) device position and
measurement procedures. The phantom headshell used
for the dosimetric assessments was constructed by
vacuum injection moulding of reinforced fiberglass
resin using inner and outer moulds. The shell thickness
was 2.0?0.2 mm over the sides of the head.
Participants were asked not to use any mobile
telephone for at least 1 h before each session. At the
beginning (and at the end) of each session, participants
completed a questionnaire to rate a series of subjective
symptoms. Then the mobile phone set was mounted on
the head of each participant and activated. After that,
participants had to complete a subsection of Raven’s
This was simply done to allow the mobile phone to
‘‘warm up’’ after being switched on.
Four different tasks were administered in a
counterbalanced order. In all the experiments visual
stimuli were displayed on a computer screen and
participants had to give, depending on the task, either a
verbal response to a microphone in front of them or a
key response on the computer keyboard. The reaction
times (RT) for each response were then recorded. Each
task was preceded by both verbal and written
instructions, and by a variable number of practice trials
(in order to familiarize participants with the task and to
reach a stable performance).
In the SRT participants were presented with the
letter ‘‘O’’ and asked to press the space bar on the
interval ranging from 1 to 4 s. Each participant was
presented with 40 trials.
to say aloud the solution into a microphone.1The
All participants were exposed to both ON and
OFF (sham) conditions (in counterbalanced order). In
the ON condition, 84 participants were exposed to
GSM signals and 84 to CW signals. For each group,
42 subjects had the phone positioned on the left side of
the head and 42 on the right side. Data were analyzed
with a mixed factorial ANOVA, where the factors were
Type of signal (CWand GSM, between subject factor),
1Note that in Koivisto et al. [2000b] responses in the 10CRT and
ST tasks were given by pressing keys in the computer keyboard.
We believe that for RTs measured on the verbal answers, when
several options are available (as in our experiments), there is less
variability both within and between participants. In fact, not only a
manual response is normally less automatic (because less
practiced) than a verbal one, but also individual ability with the
keyboard can vary extensively, thus affecting RTs. We also believe
that practice would affect more a manual response than a verbal
one, and, therefore, because ST was always performed after
10CRT, RTs would reflect the time taken to give the actual answer
(relative to the time taken to mentally process the stimulus and the
answer) more in the 10CRT than in the ST, when a manual
response is given.
Simple reaction time task. None of the main effects
was significant [Fs (1, 164)<1.21], none of the two-
way interactions [Fs (1, 164)<1.1], nor the three-way
interaction was significant [F (1, 164)¼3.26, P>.05].
Participants did not make any errors in this task.
RF exposure (On vs. Off, within subject factor), and
Position (left vs. right, between subject factor).
Supplementary analyses were conducted to assess any
Off variable on sex. This analysis was conducted to
assess the extent to which the Smythe and Costall
 findings, of a differential impact of the On/Off
variable on women versus men could be replicated
using attentional tasks.
Table 1 provides the mean of the median RTs for
each participant in each of the tasks used. RTs of
signal: CW vs. GSM)?2 (position of the phone: Left
ANOVAs were performed on the median, the log
transformed median, the arithmetic, and the geometric
mean of the performance of each participant in each
condition. The results of these analyses were compa-
A summary of the analyses carried out on each task
Effects of RF/Sham Exposure
Vigilance task. None of the main effects was signifi-
cant [Fs (1, 164)<1.26], none of the two-way
interactions [Fs (1, 164)<2.82], nor the three-way
interaction was significant [F (1, 164)<1].
ranged from 0.022 to 0.041. A mixed factorial ANOVA
on these error data did not show any significant effect
[Fs (1, 164)<2.07, P>.15], indicating that there was
not a speed-accuracy trade-off.
Ten CRT and subtraction tasks. Mixed factorial
in the subtraction task showed that none of the main
effects nor interaction were significant [Fs (1, 164)<
1.31]. Moreover, the 10CRT performance could be
TABLE 1. Reaction Times in ms (RT) in the Attentional Tasks Used
Type of signalb
aSimple reaction time task (SRT) vigilance task (VT), 10choice reaction time task (10CRT)
subtraction task (ST) and on the RT difference between STand 10CRT.
bType of signal (unmodulated vs. modulated, i.e., CW vs. GSM).
cPosition of the phone (Left vs. Right; number of subjects in parenthesis).
dRF exposure (On vs. Off).
eThe P-values refer to the test of the ON vs. OFF variable. N¼42 participants per group.
4Russo et al.
Phone was On (RF Exposure) or Off (Sham Exposure)
logical changes were unlikely to interfere with atten-
tional processing. In fact, we would argue that they
should improve the chances of detecting possible
effects (if any) of RFs on human attention. Moreover,
in our study whether RF exposure originated from the
or unmodulated, made little difference to any of the
cognitive tests. Finally, RF exposure effects were not
modulated by gender in any of the tasks.
removing the RTs obtained in the 10CRT task from the
RTs obtained in the subtraction task we can obtain an
estimate of the net time required to perform arithmetic
subtractions. A mixed ANOVA on the RTs obtained
by subtracting the RTs in the 10CRT from the subtr-
action task did not show any significant effect [Fs
The proportion of errors across conditions ranged
from 0.025 to 0.044. A mixed factorial ANOVA on
these error data did not show any significant effect [Fs
(1, 164)<2.0, P>.15], indicating that there was no a
RF/Sham Exposure in Session 1
and Session 2
To control the presence of practice effects on
performance, we did an ANOVA where On and
Off performances were compared separately for the
first session and the second session. No significant
p-values for t-tests are shown in Table 2.
RF/Sham Exposure and Gender
To examine possible interactions between gender
and On/Off exposure, we performed an ANOVA with
RF exposure (On vs. Off, within subject factor) and
Gender (male female, between subject factor) as
On-Off exposure and gender (see Table 3).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
is tested and exposure to RF fields is administered in a
does not appear to significantly affect performance in a
series of attentional tasks. It is important to note that
these are the same tasks that previous, less powerful,
studies have shown were affected by exposure to RF
fields. There are some methodological discrepancies
in response modality and number of trials between two
of our experiments, and those conducted by Koivisto
et al. [2000b]. However, we believe that our methodo-
The studyoftheeffectof exposure toRFfieldson
field of science with significant public interest and
any effect on biological systems induced by the use of
mobile phone can be ascribed to thermal effects. While
there is public concern about non-thermal effects, there
seems to be no viable theoretical basis to understand
the possible non-thermal effects that microwave fields
might have on biological systems [e.g., Maier et al.,
2000]. In this theoretical vacuum, it is of some concern
that research reports demonstrating an effect of RF
fields generated by mobile phones on behavioral or on
health parameters have not been subsequently repli-
cated, especially when more sophisticated method-
ologies have been implemented [e.g., Repacholi, 1997;
Krause et al., 2000, 2003; Utteridge et al., 2002].
In summary, the results we obtained do not, of
course, preclude the possibility that exposure to RF
TABLE 2. RTs (in ms) for Each Attentional Task, According
to the Session (Session 1 and Session 2) and to Whether the
RTs ON RTs OFFP-valuea
aP-values resulting from the statistical analysis where, for each
session, On RTs were compared with Off RTs.
TABLE 3. Mean and P-values of the Interactions Between
Gender and RF Exposure for Each of the Tasks Used
Haarala C, Ek M, Bjo ¨rnberg L, Laine M, Revonsuo A, Koivisto M,
Ha ¨ma ¨la ¨inen H. 2004. 902 MHz mobile phone does not
affect short-term memory in humans. Bioelectromagnetics
KoivistoM,KrauseC,RevonsuoA,LaineM,Ha ¨ma ¨la ¨inenH.2000a.
The effects of electromagnetic field emitted by GSM phones
on working memory. Neuro Rep 11:1641–1643.
M, Ha ¨ma ¨la ¨inen H. 2000b. Effects of a 902 MHz electro-
magnetic field emitted by cellular telephones in humans.
Neuro Rep 11:413–415.
Krause CM, Sillanma ¨ki L, Koivisto M, Ha ¨ggqvist A, Saarela C,
Revonsuo A, Laine M, Ha ¨ma ¨la ¨inen M. 2000. Effects of
electromagnetic field emitted by cellular phones on the EEG
during a memory task. Neuro Rep 11:761–764.
Krause CM, Haarala C, Sillanma ¨ki L, Koivisto M, Alanko K,
Revonsuo A, Laine M, Ha ¨ma ¨la ¨inen M. 2003. Effects of
electromagnetic field emitted by cellular phones on the EEG
during an auditory memory task: A double blind replication
study. Bioelectromagnetics 25:33–40.
of exposure to the electromagnetic field emitted by mobile
phones on human attention. Neuro Rep 14:1361–1364.
Maier M, Blakemore C, Koivisto M. 2000. The health hazards of
mobile phones. Br Med J 320:1288–1289.
Preece AW, Iwi G, Davies-Smith A, Wesnes K, Butler S, Lim E,
Varey A. 1999. Effect ofa 915 MHz simulated mobile phone
signal on cognitive functions in man. Int J Radiat Biol
Repacholi MH. 1997. Lymphomas in E(Mu)-Pim1 transgenic mice
exposed to pulsed 900 MHz electromagnetic fields. Radiat
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male, but not female, subjects. Neuro Rep 14:243–246.
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MHz microwaves does not increase lymphoma incidence.
Radiat Res 158:357–364.
fields generated by mobile phones may affect other
aspects of cognitive functions that were not measured
by the tasks we used. However, the present study
highlights the need for replicable patterns of results
using adequately powered studies in order to provide a
sound empirical foundation for any theoretical under-
standing of how RF fields might affect cognitive
Margaret A. Defeyter is now at the Division of
Psychology, University of Northumbria, Newcastle
Upon Tyne, UK. We would like to thank two
anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and their
helpful comments. The Mobile Telecommunications
and Health Research Programme (Grant ref. RUM9) to
Riccardo Russo, Elaine Fox, and Dariush Mirshekar.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the
authors and not necessarily those of the funders.
Cleary SF. 1995. Effects of radio-frequency radiation on mamma-
lian cells and biomolecules in vitro. In: Blank M. editor.
Electromagnetic fields: Biological interactions and mecha-
nisms. Washington: American Chemical Society, pp. 467–
M. 2004. Time-course of electromagnetic field effects on
human performance and tympanic temperature. Neuro Rep
Edelstyn N, Oldershaw A. 2002. The acute effects of exposure to
electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones on human
attention. Neuro Rep 13:119–121.
Haarala C, Bjo ¨rnberg L, Ek M, Laine M, Revonsuo A, Koivisto
M, Hamalainen H. 2003. Effect of a 902 MHz electro-
magnetic field emitted by mobile phones on human
cognitive function: A replication study. Bioelectromagnetics
6Russo et al.
111 R IV E R ST R E E T, H OBOK E N, N J 07030
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Softproofing for advanced Adobe Acrobat Users - NOTES tool
NOTE: ACROBAT READER FROM THE INTERNET DOES NOT CONTAIN THE NOTES TOOL USED IN THIS PROCEDURE.
Acrobat annotation tools can be very useful for indicating changes to the PDF proof of your article.
By using Acrobat annotation tools, a full digital pathway can be maintained for your page proofs.
The NOTES annotation tool can be used with either Adobe Acrobat 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0. Other
annotation tools are also available in Acrobat 4.0, but this instruction sheet will concentrate
on how to use the NOTES tool. Acrobat Reader, the free Internet download software from Adobe,
DOES NOT contain the NOTES tool. In order to softproof using the NOTES tool you must have
the full software suite Adobe Acrobat 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0 installed on your computer.
Steps for Softproofing using Adobe Acrobat NOTES tool:
1. Open the PDF page proof of your article using either Adobe Acrobat 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0. Proof
your article on-screen or print a copy for markup of changes.
2. Go to File/Preferences/Annotations (in Acrobat 4.0) or Document/Add a Comment (in Acrobat
6.0 and enter your name into the “default user” or “author” field. Also, set the font size at 9 or 10
3. When you have decided on the corrections to your article, select the NOTES tool from the
Acrobat toolbox and click in the margin next to the text to be changed.
4. Enter your corrections into the NOTES text box window. Be sure to clearly indicate where the
correction is to be placed and what text it will effect. If necessary to avoid confusion, you can
use your TEXT SELECTION tool to copy the text to be corrected and paste it into the NOTES
text box window. At this point, you can type the corrections directly into the NOTES text
box window. DO NOT correct the text by typing directly on the PDF page.
5. Go through your entire article using the NOTES tool as described in Step 4.
6. When you have completed the corrections to your article, go to File/Export/Annotations (in
Acrobat 4.0) or Document/Add a Comment (in Acrobat 6.0).
7. When closing your article PDF be sure NOT to save changes to original file.
8. To make changes to a NOTES file you have exported, simply re-open the original PDF
proof file, go to File/Import/Notes and import the NOTES file you saved. Make changes and re-
export NOTES file keeping the same file name.
9. When complete, attach your NOTES file to a reply e-mail message. Be sure to include your
name, the date, and the title of the journal your article will be printed in.