Since most people have cellphones these days, it’s no wonder that the press gave a lot of space to a new study on the impact of these devices on the brain. How many of us have wondered, uneasily, can our cellphone hurt our minds?
The recent hoopla on the topic started earlier this week when the Journal of the American Medical Association published the study. Researchers found that “spending 50 minutes with a cellphone plastered to your ear,” as Reuters put it, increases activity in the part of the brain near the phone’s antenna.
The researchers who conducted the study warned that at this point it is too early to draw any conclusions about the implications of the brain-activity change, or whether it it good or bad.
But all the press accounts agreed that the study is likely to stir up once again the ongoing debate about the safety of cellphones and the impact of their electromagnetic radiation on the brain.
The study, done by the National Institutes of Health, used positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to gauge changes in the brains of 47 test subjects.
Cellphones were held on the right and left sides of the heads of the test subjects for 50 minutes on two different days. The cellphones were just turned on the second day. Researchers found that when the cellphone was live there was an increase in activity in the part of the brain near the cellphone’s antenna, not where the phone actually came in contact with the head,
That led researchers to believe that the activity was sparked by the electromagnetic signals of the cellphones, not the heat coming from them, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The test subjects did not speak into the cellphone, or hear anyone speak on it, during the test.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the Food and Drug Administration “has taken the position that any harmful effects of cellphones are the result of tissue becoming overheated by direct exposure to the device as it warms with prolonged use.”
That is not what this new study found.
The New York Times noted that the increased brain activity, which was indicated by an increase in brain glucose metabolism, “could potentially lead to the creation of molecules called free radicals, which in excess can damage healthy cells.”
It seems too early for such speculation, but the new study does raise a red flag and indicates that follow-up research must be done.