Cognitive Effects of Electromagnetic Fields in Humans

  • Alan W. Preece
Part of the Advances in Electromagnetic Fields in Living Systems book series (AEFL, volume 5)


Electromagnetic fields interact with human tissue in a number of ways, depending on power level and frequency, and have been long suspected by some to give rise to harmful effects. In particular, the use of a mobile phone against the head has aroused suspicions of various cognitive effects. Accordingly, there have been a large number of studies of behavioural effects from ELF, RF and microwave exposure, mostly as provocation experiments. This chapter discusses the ways and means of doing this, the confusion of physiological effects variously observed and the problem of inconsistency of results. In animal studies, exposure levels have been sufficient to elicit responses, which largely appear to be related to heating effects, whereas similar studies are not ethically easy in humans. Accordingly, many of the studies have sought to explore non-thermal responses, mediated either through induced currents in neurological tissue or biochemical responses directly in cells. Effects reported for ELF tend to be dissimilar to those for RF and this may be more to do with the physical interaction with tissue than anything more fundamental. It is the possible existence of non-thermal effects that has largely been considered here and also the problem of studies in children who have been urged to restrain mobile phone use. Some important consequences have been observed such as the effect of phone use on driving, but largely the conclusion of detailed provocation studies is that short term or acute exposure to ELF or RF within the established guidelines may not be a hazard to humans, which suggests that the increasing use of RF technology may not itself be harmful.


Mobile Phone Cognitive Effect Choice Reaction Time Simple Reaction Time Sham Exposure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Aalto, S., Haarala, C., Bruck, A., Sipila, H., Hamalainen, H., and Rinne, J.O., 2006, Mobile phone affects cerebral blood flow in humans. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 26: 885–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adair, R.K., 2003, Biophysical limits on athermal effects of RF and microwave radiation. Bioelectromagnetics 24: 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alm, H., and Nilsson, L., 1994, Changes in driver behaviour as a function of handsfree mobile phones–a simulator study. Accid Anal Prev 26: 441–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alm, H., and Nilsson, L., 1995, The effects of a mobile telephone task on driver behaviour in a car following situation. Accid Anal Prev 27: 707–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andersson, B., Berg, M., Arnetz, B.B., Melin, L., Langlet, I., and Liden, S, 1996, A cognitive-behavioral treatment of patients suffering from “electric hypersensitivity”. Subjective effects and reactions in a double-blind provocation study. J Occup Environ Med 38: 752–758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baldi, E., Baldi, C., and Lithgow, B.J., 2007, A pilot investigation of the effect of extremely low frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields on humans’ heart rate variability. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 76–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beall, A.C., Kato, K., Goldenring, J.R., Rasmussen, H., Brophy, C.M., 1997, Cyclic nucleotide-dependent vasorelaxation is associated with the phosphorylation of a small heat shock-related protein. J Biol Chem 272: 11283–11287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Besset, A., Espa, F., Dauvilliers, Y., Billiard, M., and de Seze, R., 2005, No effect on cognitive function from daily mobile phone use. Bioelectromagnetics 26: 102–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bier, M., 2005, Gauging the strength of power frequency fields against membrane electrical noise. Bioelectromagnetics 26: 595–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bit-Babik, G., Guy, A.W., Chou, C.K., Faraone, A., Kanda, M., Gessner, A., Wang, J., and Fujiwara, O., 2005, Simulation of exposure and SAR estimation for adult and child heads exposed to radiofrequency energy from portable communication devices. Radiat Res 163: 580–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bohler, E., and Schuz, J., 2004, Cellular telephone use among primary school children in Germany. Eur J Epidemiol 19: 1043–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boutry, C.M., Kuehn, S., Achermann, P., Romann, A., Keshvari, J., and Kuster, N., 2008, Dosimetric evaluation of different exposure apparatuses used in human provocation studies. Bioelectromagnetics 29: 11–19Google Scholar
  13. Burgess, A., 2003, Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  14. Carlo, G.L., and Schram, M., 2001, Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age. Carroll and Graf, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Cinel, C., Boldini, A., Russo, R., and Fox, E., 2007, Effects of mobile phone electromagnetic fields on an auditory order threshold task. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 493–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cohen, J.T., and Graham, J.D., 2003, A revised economic analysis of restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. Risk Anal 23: 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cook, C.M., Thomas, A.W., and Prato, F.S., 2002, Human electrophysiological and cognitive effects of exposure to ELF magnetic and ELF modulated RF and microwave fields: A review of recent studies. Bioelectromagnetics 23: 144–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cook, C.M., Saucier, D.M., Thomas, A.W., and Prato, F.S., 2006, Exposure to ELF magnetic and ELF-modulated radiofrequency fields: The time course of physiological and cognitive effects observed in recent studies (2001–2005). Bioelectromagnetics 27: 613–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Curcio, G., Ferrara, M., De Gennaro, L., Christrani, R., D’Inzeo, G., Bertini, M., 2004, Tune course of electromagnetic field effect on human performance and tympanic temperature. Neuro report 15: 161–164.Google Scholar
  20. Curcio, G., Valentini, E., Moroni, F., Ferrara, M., De Gennaro, L., and Bertini, M., 2007, Psychomotor performance is not influenced by brief repeated exposures to mobile phones. Bioelectromagnetics 29: 237–241.Google Scholar
  21. D’Andrea, J.A., Chou, C.K., Johnston, S.A., and Adair, E.R., 2003, Microwave effects on the nervous system. Bioelectromagnetics Suppl 6: S107–S147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. de Pomerai, D., Daniells, C., David, H., Allan, J., Duce, I., Mutwakil, M., Thomas, D., Sewell, P., Tattersall, J., Jones, D., and Candido, P., 2000, Non-thermal heat-shock response to microwaves. Nature 405: 417–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. de Salles, A.A., Bulla, G., and Rodriguez, C.E., 2006, Electromagnetic absorption in the head of adults and children due to mobile phone operation close to the head. Electromagn Biol Med 25: 349–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dimonte, M., and Ricchiuto, G., 2006, Mobile phone and young people. A survey pilot study to explore the controversial aspects of a new social phenomenon. Minerva Pediatr 58: 357–363.Google Scholar
  25. Edelstyn, N., and Oldershaw, A., 2002, The acute effects of exposure to the electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones on human attention. Neuroreport 13: 119–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Eulitz, C., Ullsperger, P., Freude, G., and Elbert, T., 1998, Mobile phones modulate response patterns of human brain activity. Neuroreport 9: 3229–3232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flodin, U., Seneby, A., and Tegenfeldt, C., 2000, Provocation of electric hypersensitivity under everyday conditions. Scand J Work Environ Health 26: 93–98.Google Scholar
  28. Gandhi, O.P., and Kang, G., 2002, Some present problems and a proposed experimental phantom for SAR compliance testing of cellular telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz. Phys Med Biol 47: 1501–1518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gandhi, O.P., Lazzi, G., and Furse, C.M., 1996, Electromagnetic absorption in the human head and neck for mobile telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz. IEEE Trans Microw Theory Tech 44: 1884–1897.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Garvey, M.A., Ziemann, U., Bartko, J.J., Denckla, M.B., Barker, C.A., and Wassermann, E.M., 2003, Cortical correlates of neuromotor development in healthy children. Clin Neurophysiol 114: 1662–1670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Graham, C., Cohen, H.D., Cook, M.R., Phelps, J., Gerkovich, M.M., and Fotopoulous, S.S., 1987, A double band evaluation of 60-H2 field effects on human performance physiology and subjective state. In: Anderson, L.E., et al. (eds.) “Interaction of Biological Systems with Static and ELF Electric and Magnetic Fields” CONF-841041 Spring field VA: NTIS, pp 471–486.Google Scholar
  32. Graham, C., Cook, M.R., Cohen, H.D., and Gerkovich, M.M., 1994, Dose response study of human exposure to 60 Hz electric and magnetic fields. Bioelectromagnetics 15: 447–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Haarala, C., Bjornberg, L., Ek, M., Laine, M., Revonsuo, A., Koivisto, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2003, Effect of a 902 MHz electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones on human cognitive function: A replication study. Bioelectromagnetics 24(4): 283–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Haarala, C., Aalto, S., Hautze, H., Julkunen, L., Rinne, J.O., Laine, M., Krause, B., and Hamalainen, H., 2003a, Effects of a 902 MHz mobile phone on cerebral blood flow in humans: a PET study. Neuroreport 14: 2019–2023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Haarala, C., Bjornberg, L., Ek, M., Laine, M., Revonsuo, A., Koivisto, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2003b, Effect of a 902 MHz electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones on human cognitive function: A replication study. Bioelectromagnetics 24: 283–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Haarala, C., Bergman, M., Laine, M., Revonsuo, A., Koivisto, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2005, Electromagnetic field emitted by 902 MHz mobile phones shows no effects on children’s cognitive function. Bioelectromagnetics Suppl 7: S144–S150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Haarala, C., Takio, F., Rintee, T., Laine, M., Koivisto, M., Revonsuo, A., and Hamalainen, H., 2007, Pulsed and continuous wave mobile phone exposure over left versus right hemisphere: Effects on human cognitive function. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 289–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hietanen, M., Hamalainen, A.M., and Husman, T., 2002, Hypersensitivity symptoms associated with exposure to cellular telephones: No causal link. Bioelectromagnetics 23: 264–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hillert, L., Berglind, N., Arnetz, B.B., and Bellander, T., 2002, Prevalence of self-reported hypersensitivity to electric or magnetic fields in a population-based questionnaire survey. Scand J Work Environ Health 28: 33–41.Google Scholar
  40. Huber, R., Treyer, V., Schuderer, J., Berthold, T., Buck, A., Kuster, N., Landolt, H.P., and Achermann, P., 2005, Exposure to pulse-modulated radio frequency electromagnetic fields affects regional cerebral blood flow. Eur J Neurosci 21: 1000–1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. ICNIRP, 1998, Guidelines for limiting exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz). Health Phys 74: 494–522.Google Scholar
  42. IEGMP, 2000, Mobile phones and health. Scholar
  43. Jerius, H., Karolyi, D.R., Mondy, J.S., Beall, A., Wootton, D., Ku, D., Cable, S., and Brophy, C.M., 1999, Endothelial-dependent vasodilation is associated with increases in the phosphorylation of a small heat shock protein (HSP20). J Vasc Surg 29: 678–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kaune, W.T., 2002, Thermal noise limit on the sensitivity of cellular membranes to power frequency electric and magnetic fields. Bioelectromagnetics 23: 622–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Keetley, V., Wood, A.W., Spong, J., and Stough, C., 2006, Neuropsychological sequelae of digital mobile phone exposure in humans. Neuropsychologia 44: 1843–1848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Keshvari, J., and Lang, S., 2005, Comparison of radio frequency energy absorption in ear and eye region of children and adults at 900, 1800 and 2450 MHz. Phys Med Biol 50: 4355–4369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Koivisto, M., Krause, C.M., Revonsuo, A., Laine, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2000a, The effects of electromagnetic field emitted by GSM phones on working memory. Neuroreport 11: 1641–1643.Google Scholar
  48. Koivisto, M., Revonsuo, A., Krause, C., Haarala, C., Sillanmaki, L., Laine, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2000b, Effects of 902 MHz electromagnetic field emitted by cellular telephones on response times in humans. Neuroreport 11: 413–415.Google Scholar
  49. Krause, C.M., Sillanmaki, L., Koivisto, M., Haggqvist, A., Saarela, C., Revonsuo, A., Laine, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2000, Effects of electromagnetic field emitted by cellular phones on the EEG during a memory task. Neuroreport 11: 761–764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Krause, C.M., Bjornberg, C.H., Pesonen, M., Hulten, A., Liesivuori, T., Koivisto, M., Revonsuo, A., Laine, M., and Hamalainen, H., 2006, Mobile phone effects on children’s event-related oscillatory EEG during an auditory memory task. Int J Radiat Biol 82: 443–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lamble, D., Kauranen, T., Laakso, M., and Summala, H., 1999, Cognitive load and detection thresholds in car following situations: Safety implications for using mobile (cellular) telephones while driving. Accid Anal Prev 31: 617–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lass, J., Tuulik, V., Ferenets, R., Riisalo, R., and Hinrikus, H., 2002, Effects of 7 Hz-modulated 450 MHz electromagnetic radiation on human performance in visual memory tasks. Int J Radiat Biol 78: 937–944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lee, T.M., Ho, S.M., Tsang, L.Y., Yang, S.H., Li, L.S., Chan, C.C., and Yang, S.Y., 2001, Effect on human attention of exposure to the electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones. Neuroreport 12: 729–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Leitgeb, N., Schrottner, J., and Bohm, M., 2005, Does “electromagnetic pollution” cause illness? An inquiry among Austrian general practitioners. Wien Med Wochenschr 155: 237–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Leitgeb, N., Schrottner, J., and Cech, R., 2007, Perception of ELF electromagnetic fields: Excitation thresholds and inter-individual variability. Health Phys 92: 591–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Linden, V., and Rolfsen, S., 1981, Video computer terminals and occupational dermatitis. Scand J Work Environ Health 7: 62–64.Google Scholar
  57. Lonne-Rahm, S., Andersson, B., Melin, L., Schultzberg, M., Arnetz, B., and Berg, M., 2000, Provocation with stress and electricity of patients with “sensitivity to electricity”. J Occup Environ Med 42: 512–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lövsund, P., Oberg, P.A., and Nilsson, S.E., 1979, Influence on vision of extremely low frequence electromagnetic fields. Industrial measurements, magnetophosphene studies volunteers and intraretinal studies in animals. Acta Ophthalmol 57: 812–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lyskov, E., Sandstrom, M., and Mild, K.H., 2001, Provocation study of persons with perceived electrical hypersensitivity and controls using magnetic field exposure and recording of electrophysiological characteristics. Bioelectromagnetics 22: 457–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Markova, E., Hillert, L., Malmgren, L., Persson, B.R., and Belyaev, I.Y., 2005, Microwaves from GSM mobile telephones affect 53BP1 and gamma-H2AX foci in human lymphocytes from hypersensitive and healthy persons. Environ Health Perspect 113: 1172–1177.Google Scholar
  61. Martinez-Burdalo, M., Martin, A., Anguiano, M., and Villar, R., 2004, Comparison of FDTD-calculated specific absorption rate in adults and children when using a mobile phone at 900 and 1800 MHz. Phys Med Biol 49: 345–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mezei, G., Benyi, M., and Muller, A., 2007, Mobile phone ownership and use among school children in three Hungarian cities. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 309–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mobile Phones UK, 2007, SAR values and mobile phone health. Scholar
  64. Mortazavi, S.M., Ahmadi, J., and Shariati, M., 2007, Prevalence of subjective poor health symptoms associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields among university students. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 326–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. MTHR, 2004, Scholar
  66. Nature, 2006, Retraction of De Pomerai D., et al. Nature 405: 417–418.Google Scholar
  67. NRPB, 2003, Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields: Report of an Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation, 14, No. 2. NRPB, UK.Google Scholar
  68. Oftedal, G., Wilen, J., Sandstrom, M., and Mild, K.H., 2000, Symptoms experienced in connection with mobile phone use. Occup Med 50: 237–245.Google Scholar
  69. Paneth, N., 1993, Neurobehavioral effects of power-frequency electromagnetic fields. Environ Health Perspect 101 Suppl 4: 101–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Papageorgion, C.C., Nanou, E.D., Isiafukis, Y.G., Capsalis, C.N., and Rabavilas, A.D., 2004, Gender related differences on the EEG during a simulated mobile phone signal. Neuro report 15: 2557–2560.Google Scholar
  71. Preece, A.W., Murfin, J.L., and Johnson, R.H., 1987, RF field penetration from electrically small hyperthermia applicators. Phys Med Biol 32: 1595–1601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Preece, A.W., Iwi, G., Davies-Smith, A., Wesnes, K., Butler, S., Lim, E., and Varey, A., 1999, Effect of a 915-MHz simulated mobile phone signal on cognitive function in man. Int J Radiat Biol 75: 447–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Preece, A.W., Goodfellow, S., Wright, M.G., Butler, S.R., Dunn, E.J., Johnson, Y., Manktelow, T.C., and Wesnes, K., 2005, Effect of 902 MHz mobile phone transmission on cognitive function in children. Bioelectromagnetics Suppl 7: S138–S143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Preece, A.W., Georgiou, A.G., Dunn, E.J., and Farrow, S.C., 2007, Health response of two communities to military antennae in Cyprus. Occup Environ Med 64: 402–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rubin, G.J., Das Munshi, J., and Wessely, S., 2005, Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: A systematic review of provocation studies. Psychosom Med 67: 224–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rubin, G.J., Hahn, G., Everitt, B.S., Cleare, A.J., and Wessely, S., 2006, Are some people sensitive to mobile phone signals? Within participants double blind randomised provocation study. BMJ 332: 886–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Russo, R., Fox, E., Cinel, C., Boldini, A., Defeyter, M.A., Mirshekar-Syahkal, D., and Mehta, A., 2006, Does acute exposure to mobile phones affect human attention? Bioelectromagnetics 27: 215–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schmid, G., Cecil, S., Goger, C., Trimmel, M., Kuster, N., and Molla-Djafari, H., 2007, New head exposure system for use in human provocation studies with EEG recording during GSM900 and UMTS-like exposure. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 636–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schonborn, F., Burkhardt, M., and Kuster, N., 1998, Differences in energy absorption between heads of adults and children in the near field of sources. Health Phys 74: 160–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Schuz, J., 2005, Mobile phone use and exposures in children. Bioelectromagnetics Suppl 7: S45–S50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Taki, M., Suzuki, Y., and Wake, K., 2003, Dosimetry considerations in the head and retina for extremely low frequency electric fields. Radiat Prot Dosimetry 106: 349–356.Google Scholar
  82. Valentini, E., Curcio, G., Moroni, F., Ferrara, M., De Gennaro, L., and Bertini, M., 2007b, Neurophysiological effects of mobile phone electromagnetic fields on humans: A comprehensive review. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 415–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Van Leeuwen, G.M., Lagendijk, J.J., Van Leersum, B.J., Zwamborn, A.P., Hornsleth, S.N., and Kotte, A.N., 1999, Calculation of change in brain temperatures due to exposure to a mobile phone. Phys Med Biol 44: 2367–2379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Vincze, G., Szasz, N., and Szasz, A., 2005, On the thermal noise limit of cellular membranes. Bioelectromagnetics 26: 28–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Weaver, J.C., and Astumian, R.D., 1990, The response of living cells to very weak electric fields: the thermal noise limit. Science 247: 459–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Weaver, J.C., and Astumian, R.D., 1992, Estimates for ELF effects: Noise-based thresholds and the number of experimental conditions required for empirical searches. Bioelectromagnetics Suppl 1: 119–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wesnes, K.A., 2006, Cognitive function testing: The case for standardization and automation. J Br Menopause Soc 12: 158–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wever, R., 1979, The Circadian Rhythm in Man. Springer-Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  89. WHO, 2000, Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile telephones and their base stations. Fact street 193, Scholar
  90. Wilen, J., Wiklund, U., Hornsten, R., and Sandstrom, M., 2007, Changes in heart rate variability among RF plastic sealer operators. Bioelectromagnetics 28: 76–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Williams, B.R., Strauss, E.H., Hultsch, D.F., and Hunter, M.A., 2007, Reaction time inconsistency in a spatial Stroop task: Age-related differences through childhood and adulthood. Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn 14: 417–439.Google Scholar
  92. Wolff, P.H., Kotwica, K., and Obregon, M., 1998, The development of interlimb coordination during bimanual finger tapping. Int J Neurosci 93: 7–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bristol Oncology CentreBristolUK

Personalised recommendations