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Smartphone use may affect teenagers’ memory, new study reveals

Smartphone use may affect teenagers’ memory, new study reveals
Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Claire Heffron
Published on Updated
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Swiss researchers warn increased exposure to radiation from mobile phones may impact memory in teenagers.


Young people who put their mobile phone on their right ear during calls are exposed to a decline in their memory capacity, according to the Swiss Institute of Tropical Health and Public Health (Swiss TPH), whose research is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The Swiss study of 700 teens found radio frequency electromagnetic fields may have adverse effects on the development of memory performance of specific brain regions exposed during mobile phone use.

Professor Martin Röösli from the institute told Euronews they had three different tests measuring different sides of the brain.

"We found that the figuration memory is mostly affected and interesting enough it was most affected in teenagers using their phones on the right side of the head," he said.

"We asked on which side they use their mobile phones, if they have hands-free devices and for those who agreed we used the operator data of call duration. For every call, we knew on which network it took place and how long it was".

Several studies have already been conducted to try to identify the possible effects of electromagnetic fields, radio-frequency and radiation of phones on the brain, without much success so far.

"Basically we know that mobile phone radiation makes a slight temperature increase but we do not expect that it has some long-term effect on memory. However, we knew from previous laboratory research, that brainwaves are affected by mobile phones radiations. For instance, if participants in these studied used a mobile prior to going to bed, they had different brain waves. We hypothesised that maybe this could be connected in the long term to the memory and that is why we looked at their memory," said Röösli.

Scientists believe that memory is more vulnerable to waves when the phone is stuck specifically to the right ear.

The brain areas related to the memory are in the right hemisphere of the brain.

“Potential risks to the brain can be minimised 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,” Röösli explained.

The study found that other aspects of wireless communication use, such as sending text messages, playing games or browsing the internet showed only marginal RF-EMF exposure to the brain and were not associated with the development of memory performance.

"A unique feature of this study is the use of objectively collected mobile phone user data from mobile phone operators."

He emphasised that further research is needed to rule out the influence of other factors. "For instance, the study results could have been affected by puberty, which affects both mobile phone use and the participant's cognitive and behavioural state."

"However 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, emphasising the need for further research to rule out the influence of other factors.

The study follows up a report in 2015 with twice the sample size and more recent information on the absorption of RF-EMF in adolescents’ brains during different types of wireless communication device use.

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