Can Cell Phones Increase Brain Power?
June 16, 2000 -- Do cell phones cause brain tumors? Can they interfere with
your pacemaker? In this day and age, when questions about the health effects of
cell phones border on the sensational, the findings of the latest study are
somewhat reassuring, if not amusing.
In fact, they sound almost too good to be true: Using a cell phone may
actually improve certain aspects of your memory. But that is exactly what
Finnish researchers found.
"There is concern about the health effects of cellular phones because so
many people are using them now," lead researcher Mika Koivisto tells WebMD.
"We didn't study the health effects of cell phones; we studied the
short-term effects on brain function and cognition." Koivisto is from the
Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Turku, Finland.
Koivisto and his colleagues tested 48 volunteers for speed and accuracy by
having them perform certain computerized memory tasks. The subjects, who wore a
phone mounted on their head, were tested twice: once with the phone on --
exposing the volunteer to the radiofrequency electromagnetic field emitted by
the phone -- and once with the phone off.
The results? "We found that response times were speeded up when the
phone was on," Koivisto says. "But not all response times," he
says, only for the more complex tasks.
Koivisto says he isn't sure why thought processing improves.
"There are some [theories]. One is that there is a small warming up of
brain, but we cannot say whether this is true or not." He says that the
possible warming isn't likely to cause damage to the brain. Next, his team
plans to use scanning techniques to study whether or not there is any actual
warming going on.
"I think it confirms something that has been [around] for a long
time," Jeffrey Fitzsimmons, PhD, tells WebMD. "That is, that frequently
really low level [warming] effects are found to be beneficial."
Fitzsimmons, a professor of radiology at the University of Florida in
Gainesville, reviewed the study for WebMD.
If there is any kind of localized warming effect -- even a very slight
amount that is way, way too little to do any damage -- it might be enough to
stimulate blood flow, "and any time you stimulate blood flow in the brain,
that is a good thing," he explains.
But before you decide to ditch the landline and go cellular in the hopes of
improving your brainpower, Koivisto warns that you won't notice a difference.
"The effects are so small ... that they have no practical implications.
These effects can only be observed in laboratory conditions," he says.
Fitzsimmons agrees. "I don't think this is anything that is going to be
used constructively," he says. "It is just one of those things that is
interesting ... and shows that it is not always just a simple matter of saying
something is bad or it's good, because at different levels you have quite
different effects. And this is definitely low level."