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Do Cell Phones 'Excite' Your Brain?

Study Shows Increased Electrical Activity on side of Head Where Cell Phone Is Held
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 26, 2006 - Talking on a cell phone excites the brain, Italian researchers find -- but they don't yet know whether this is good or bad.

When in use, cell phones emit an electromagnetic field. Different parts of the brain communicate via electrical signals. And people tend to press cell phones to their heads when making calls.

Could this affect their brains?

Yes, find neurologist Paolo Maria Rossini, MD, PhD, research director at Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Rome, and colleagues. Their findings from a small study appear in the August issue of the journal Annals of Neurology.

The researchers say they have "shown definitively" that talking on a cell phone increases electrical activity on the side of the head where the cell phone is held. The effect mostly wears off within an hour, they say.

"We still do not know whether this effect is neutral, or potentially dangerous, or beneficial," Rossini and colleagues report. "But we firmly believe that, starting from this observation, more research is needed both in healthy people and in specific groups of subjects suffering from neurological diseases in which [brain] excitability is affected (for example, epilepsyepilepsy)."

Cell Phone Excitement

Rossini's team studied 15 healthy young men for the impact of cell phone use.

Each man wore a helmet that held a commercially available cell phone about a half inch from his left ear. Two test sessions were held one week apart. In one session the phone was turned on for 45 minutes, in the other it was off.

Before, during, immediately after, and one hour after cell-phone exposure, the researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, to measure the subjects' brain "excitability." TMS is a device that induces an electric current in the brain.

Rossini's team found that electrical activity was enhanced in the side of the brain near the "on" cell phone, but not on the other side of the brain. And there was no change in brain activity when the cell phone was in the "off" position.

"It could be argued that long-lasting and repeated exposure to electromagnetic fields, linked with intense use of cellular phones in daily life, might be harmful or beneficial in brain-diseased subjects," Rossini and colleagues conclude. "Further studies are needed ... to provide safe rules for the use of this increasingly more widespread device."

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