Mobile phones alter brain behavior?

New research shows that the electromagnetic signals emanating from mobile phones can alter your brainwaves. Indeed, the latest studies suggest that mobile phone transmissions can even affect behavior. In one study, scientists from the Swinburne University of Technology monitored the brainwaves of folks with Nokia phones, er, strapped to their heads. They noticed that the cell phone transmissions boosted alpha waves. In a separate experiment, researchers from the Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre observed that sleep-deprived subjects with phones on their heads showed a dampening of delta waves that are markers of sleep. For hours after the phones were turned off, the test subjects exhibited difficulty falling asleep. From Scientific American:
Although this research shows that cell phone transmissions can affect a person's brainwaves with persistent effects on behavior, (Loughborough University's James) Horne does not feel there is any need for concern that cell phones are damaging. The arousal effects the researchers measured are equivalent to about half a cup of coffee, and many other factors in a person's surroundings will affect a night's sleep as much or more than cell phone transmissions.

"The significance of the research," he explained, is that although the cell phone power is low, "electromagnetic radiation can nevertheless have an effect on mental behavior when transmitting at the proper frequency." He finds this fact especially remarkable when considering that everyone is surrounded by electromagnetic clutter radiating from all kinds of electronic devices in our modern world. Cell phones in talk mode seem to be particularly well-tuned to frequencies that affect brainwave activity. "The results show sensitivity to low-level radiation to a subtle degree. These findings open the door by a crack for more research to follow. One only wonders if with different doses, durations, or other devices, would there be greater effects?"


  1. Mr. King was right! Do they lead to uncontrollable rage and a desire for easy listening?

  2. I’m not sure how cellphones’ affecting the recording of a byproduct of brain activity is the same as affecting behaviour.

    On the other hand, how could a having a cellphone strapped to your head NOT cause you to behave abnormally?

    (Mood: Existentialist)

  3. No wonder I can’t sleep at night! I’m going to start turning my phone off an hour before I go to bed now.

  4. Hmm… They had trouble sleeping, you say? Was this, perhaps, because they had a phone strapped to their head?

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc, anybody?

  5. on the other hand, someone could market some sort of electromagnetic signal generator headband as an energy drink alternative.

  6. JD – I’m also convinced turning off your phone before going bed will help, but mostly because it will prevent people from calling you.

  7. Yeah, wait, was there a control group that had non-broadcasting phones or something similar strapped to their head, just to mimic the fact that something is strapped to their head? The second study sounds less reliable than the first, which I trust.

  8. If you read closer, it says that the study by Croft was double blind, which isn’t to say that the rooms was extra dark, but means that neither the subjects nor the researchers attaching the telephones knew which were active.

  9. Nelson.c – I don’t think my iPhone is cooking my brain, but if I get it near my bedroom stereo, or leave it on the dock (which happens to face the bedroom)…


    Now that will keep you from falling asleep. I I have to lay it down on the dresser to prevent RF interference.

  10. I had a bunch of monitoring equipment hooked up to me once while i slept. I was being tested for apnea. Worst sleep of my life.
    Being a guinea pig will do that to you. Methinks the process contaminates the experiment, double blinds not withstanding.

  11. JeffBell at #10 is right: This study seems to have a reasonably sensible design. There’s a phone strapped to everybody’s head, and that phone is sometimes on and sometimes off. The computer running the experiment knows when it is on or off; nobody else knows.

    (Presuming, of course, that the experiment was being run correctly and there wasn’t some as-yet-unknown factor that gave it away… Does the phone change temperature as it changes modes? Does the surrounding air change temperature? Is the phone completely silent in all modes? Does the phone not interfere with the EEG equipment itself? Some of these questions are probably addressed in the existing studies; the rest will hopefully be covered by the inevitable follow-up studies.)

  12. Does anyone else see the Nokia ad displayed here on BoingBoing with the guy who had electrodes attached to his head? The one right next to this story… because, you know. Coincidence?

  13. Every day, my wildest conspiracy theories turn out to be gross underestimations of the state of the world.

  14. # 3, 5, 9, 12,

    Does noone read the articles they comment on?

    All the subjects had cellphones strapped to their heads. All the cell phones were on. The computer, however, could switch the cell phones between “standby”, “listen” and “talk” modes.

    Only the “talk” mode, which is the only mode that transmits electromagnetic radiation, affected the patients’ abilities to sleep.

  15. @2 – Tenn –

    Ever since I got my cell phone, I can’t stop listening to Gordon Lightfoot!! Should I be worried?


  16. Phoenix, you don’t have to worry until you find hundreds of other people also listening to Lightfoot. You may develop some telepathic and telekinetic senses if you continue, so it really depends. Would you like to be supernatural at the expense of musical taste and the ability to communicate verbally? If so, continue with your habits.

    Stay the hell away from me, though. I’m going to Nunavut.

  17. I only read the precis, but I see no control isolating whether the phone was just affecting the sensor directly rather than the brain.

  18. @14 – Mechfish

    There’s a phone strapped to everybody’s head

    Now that just brings TMBG to mind:

    …everybody wants inactive cellphones on their real heads…

  19. From the study: (I assume not everybody has access to JSTOR)

    At weekly intervals, 10 healthy young adults, sleep restricted to 6h, were randomly and single-blind exposed to one of: talk, listen, standby and sham (nil signal) modes, for 30 min, at 13:30 h, whilst lying in a sound-proof, lit bedroom, with a thermally insulated silent phone beside the right ear.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    So the researchers knew whose cell was functioning and whose wasn’t, but the subjects didn’t know. That could be a problem (researcher expectation). The signal wasn’t always on, so that takes care of #20. Only ten subjects, of course.

  20. Isn’t an increase in alpha waves associated with a decrease in visual cortex function? No wonder people who drive with phones glued to their ears make such unsafe maneuvers… they literally are not watching the road…

  21. Oh wait – I misread your objection, #20 Mark. You have a point. Hmm, how would you control for that?

  22. Waiting to see the experiment replicated, and tested with other radio frequencies and other patterns of traffic. (Is a bluetooth headset more, or less, problematic? Presumably it’s a lower-stength signal, if nothing else…)

    My phone spends 99.95% of its time in its belt pouch; I’ve used about 30 minutes of airtime since I got it a year ago. (Yes, I’m on a prepaid plan…) Since my gut and points south haven’t yet complained about having a transmitter in the neighborhood, I’m not gonna worry too much about it for now.

  23. I’ve used about 30 minutes of airtime since I got it a year ago.

    Hmm. Either you don’t live in Southern California or you don’t drive, or both.

  24. I’m sure that the scientists who conducted the studies are glad the Boingers are around to inform them how to properly design experimental protocols. “Doh! We completely forgot about a control group! And what is this strange thing you call RF interference?? Frankly, we were stumped until Boingboing comments showed us the way. Thanks BB!”

  25. I think trying to pick apart the design of studies is a fun game.

    And let’s not forget that some really questionable studies have sneaked their way into fairly reputable journals. Intercessory prayer, anyone? Just ’cause it’s in a journal, doesn’t mean it’s not questionable.

  26. Antinous, you have high standards. I’m just happy when a citizen knows what a control is.

  27. Agreed. But, occasionally, I wonder if there’s an html tag for <hillbilly accent>.

  28. AccORSE he cain’t git no sleep! That feller got one a’ them moh-BILE phones strapped to ‘is noggin!

  29. As far as I reckon, bold, italic, blockquote and links are the only tags that you can use. I could quadruple my snark with strike-out, but it doesn’t seem to work. I tried blinking text once, but I think that’s been deprecated in pretty much every browser.

  30. Antinous your snark is already weaponized to the point that it’s mentioned in the Geneva Convention. I’m sure you can make do with pretend-control-H’s.

  31. God bless SciAm for trying, but why did they say it was a double-blind when it was single-blind, and which way was it blind? The assumption is that the subjects didn’t know and the experimenters did, but I find it likely that it was the other way around — i.e., the subjects probably could tell when their phone was active, especially if it was doing things like glowing and/or making noise.

    Also the fascination with brain waves is a little too fifty years ago. I’m not sure how well you’d sleep with a phone strapped to your head and shoved into an fMRI helmet, but surely you can look for actual boats in the water these days instead of just watching the ripples on the shore…


  32. Xalieri, I was confused about this too – there are two studies discussed in the SciAm article. One of them was a double-blind study of mobile phones and brain waves. One was a single-blind study of mobiles phones and sleep.

  33. Thanks for the help, Sister. That sorts things out a bit.

    I sure as hell envy your JSTOR access. I run into that particular wall maybe ten times a week.


  34. FWIW

    I have a phone on me, or near me, 24/7. If the light didn’t go on (which could be solved with some light-ingenuity), I would never know whether it was active or not.

    ..unless of course, I was near a stereo and got the techno-rooster-pulses referred to above (weightedcompanioncube #11)..

  35. Yes, I find it seasons my cranial lasagna.

    Universal JSTOR access is right up there with universal health care on my list of commendable political aims.

  36. Of course, I’m sure they modified the inactive phones to compensate for them being a few degrees cooler than the transmitting ones.

    Because, you know, they’re smart PhD types, and all that.


  37. “I think trying to pick apart the design of studies is a fun game.”

    Oh OK, that’s fine. But so is being a grouchy contrarian. Which seems to be my forte. So… go with your strengths I say.

  38. Social life, meat-world or digital, is mostly just the coming together of the undermedicated with the overmedicated.

  39. Hmm, it’s too bad the didn’t study the correlation between cellphone use and asshattery.

    J-STOR 4 Lyfe!

  40. Noen I have been meaning to introduce myself to you but it seems that I never agree with you EVAR and I didn’t want to be like, hi, nice to meet you, your favorite hymn sucks.

    But it does. It does.

  41. (#47 was trying to be a flip and funny way of introducing myself to Noen but I am kind of Asperger’s, I think, and it’s hard for me to express myself without sounding like a Lunt, sorry.)

  42. If a phone’s to my ear, I can tell whether it’s on or not without sound or light. There’s a small humming.

    Sister, you ain’t Asperger’s. I thought it was flip and funny!

  43. Social life, meat-world or digital, is mostly just the coming together of the undermedicated with the overmedicated.

    I couldn’t agree more. Though since I started reading Snow Crash, I’ve taken to calling RL the Meatverse, to complement the Metaverse.

  44. Common behaviors noted. . .

    1. When hearing about scientific evidence which they don’t like people dismiss the experiment using one of several canned tactics, such as: “Yeah, but did they use a proper control?” and then promptly go back to sleep having exercised this defense-against-fear mechanism. (The path of least resistance, (denial), is easier than actually fixing the source of the alarm. I generally think this is a rather lame duck approach, but each to their own.)

    –And in case you were wondering, YES, they used a proper control;

    “A computer controlled the phone’s transmissions in a double-blind experimental design, which meant that neither the test subject nor researchers knew whether the cell phone was transmitting or idle while EEG data were collected.”

    2. The silly joke; “How can people sleep with a phone attached to their head? I dismiss this!”

    The second study was a single blind test, which one would think would be the primary point of concern, rather than the way in which the study was designed, which from the information available doesn’t appear to be poorly done.

    In any case, a portion of the data collected was done via EEG, and such tends to be reliable regardless of what the observer happens to be thinking.

    At weekly intervals, 10 healthy young adults, sleep restricted to 6h, were randomly and single-blind exposed to one of: talk, listen, standby and sham (nil signal) modes, for 30 min, at 13:30 h, whilst lying in a sound-proof, lit bedroom, with a thermally insulated silent phone beside the right ear. Bipolar EEGs were recorded continuously, and subjective ratings of sleepiness obtained every 3 min (before, during and after exposure). After exposure the phone and base-station were switched off, the bedroom darkened, and a 90 min sleep opportunity followed. We report on sleep onset using: (i) visually scored latency to onset of stage 2 sleep, (ii) EEG power spectral analysis. There was no condition effect for subjective sleepiness. Post-exposure, sleep latency after talk mode was markedly and significantly delayed beyond listen and sham modes.

    The problems surrounding Cell Phone EM have been known and studied for ages; ignoring it is a choice and for some reason, people have made that choice en masse. By itself, this is curious, but when connected to the various other similarly ignored issues in our society, certain issues become clear and certain questions are raised; namely, “Who wants us all to be affected in this way and why? Is it simple greed and reckless disregard, or is there something more deliberate going on?”

    Anybody who researches these questions far enough will learn that, Yes, it is indeed deliberate. But I suspect those who automatically say, “Yeah, but how can you sleep with a cell phone stuck to your head? I dismiss this!” will not progress very far along that investigative path.

  45. Sister Y
    Some days are good days, some are not. Sometimes I take a contrary position because it interests me to do so. Sometimes I want people to refute a certain belief because it’s something I’m worried about and sometimes I’m just cranky.

    If I’m happy I don’t say much because I don’t really see the point. Mark and Cory post a lot of links to art that I really like. I rarely say anything about them because that just seems redundant to me.

    You should agree with me more ya know, after all, I’m always right. ;)

  46. I’m not sure one should spend too much time talking in the cell phoned for other (social) reasons. Cell phone world is not reality folks!

  47. Cell phone world is not reality folks!


    Gosh really? You mean when I’m using it to communicate and organise how my time is spent.. When I get work through my social contacts, and get paid.. It’s all an illusion? Geez, and everything seemed to have worked out so far.. what a fabulous string of coincidences.

  48. @ #53 Preliminary_Reporter:

    Hooray! Great post. Countless are the number of times I present a really interesting study to people and they say “bah, I don’t buy it, something was probably wrong with the experiment” makes we want to bang my head against the wall again and again and again.

    Yes, there are some not-great studies that get through the walls of grant funding and peer-review, but to just dismiss it out-of-hand, as if you know better? Gah!

    As you note, it is the instinctive reaction of luddites who are afraid of the latest thing that might threaten their perception of the world.

    @ #55 Antiglobalism:

    Huh? Talking to real people isn’t “reality”?

  49. Screw the tin-foil hats! I’m going for a tin-foil body suit!!

    Seriously, even with the effects of the inverse-square law, it’s enough to make me wonder about living anywhere near a 100,000 W TV or Radio tower, let alone using a cellphone.

  50. God save us from Loughborough Polytech. The idea that phone transmissions *wouldn’t* increase alpha waves is pretty nuts- alpha waves are basically just generalised electromagnetic activation associated with attention. They fluctuate very substantially all the time. Hell, I can increase people’s alpha activation *just by talking to them*!!! So can you.

    The delta-wave study has a little more interest, though.

  51. @ #61 Raj77:

    You can change someone’s alpha waves just by talking to them because they pay attention to you. But if you were separated from the by glass and they didn’t know you were talking to them, their alpha waves wouldn’t change.

    What was interesting about the study was that it had nothing to do with attention. Since the participants did not know if the phones were transmitting or not, the most reasonable conclusion was that the change in waves was being induced by the electromagnetic effect of the phone.

    This conclusion, as far as I know, wasn’t common knowledge.

  52. Does this have anything to do with the fact that I can tell if my phone has service without looking at it? My head feels different, in a weird way (spend 2 26-hour road trips listening to music and staring at your phone, and you too may gain this superpower)

    and here I’ve just been thinking that I made myself go slightly crazy.

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