Teens who use cell phones risk suffering from poor memories as they get older, and the longer they use the phones, the greater the harmful effect on memory development, according to a new study of nearly 700 adolescents in Switzerland to be published next Monday, July 23, in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study shows that the electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones are absorbed by the areas of the brain nearest to where the phones are used, and appears to affect the development of figural or non-verbal memory, according to the researchers at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.
Figural memory is governed largely by the right half of the human brain, and the study found that the negative effects on memory occurred most severely in teens who used their cell phones by pressing them against the right side of their heads, according to the Switzerland news site SwissInfo.
The explosion in cell phone and other computer technology has led to an increase in Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, or RF-EMF, in the Earth’s environment. But the long-term effects of RF-EMF on humans is only beginning to be the subject of study. The Swiss study on teens’ cell phone use is the most expansive research project in the field so far — though it builds on a 2015 study of about 400 adolescents published in the journal Environment International.
That study also found a harmful effect on memory development associated with cell phone use over a one-year period.
The scientists also gave the cell-using teens tests for verbal memory but found no significant negative effects of using the phones on the ability to remember words and language, the site TelecomPaper reported. The researchers also found no significant effects of phone use that does not require the phone to be pressed against the head — such as texting, playing video games, or browsing the internet.
But Martin Roosli, head of Environmental Exposures and Health at the Tropical and Public Health Institute and lead researcher on the study, said that the process of studying how RF-EMF affects the human brain remains in the early stages, with much yet to be learned about the risks of cell phone radiation.
“It is not yet clear how RF-EMF could potentially affect brain processes or how relevant our findings are in the long-term.” Roosli said, as quoted by Science Daily. “Potential risks to the brain can be minimized by using headphones or the loud speaker while calling, in particular when network quality is low and the mobile phone is functioning at maximum power.”