Can Cell Phones Affect Your Memory? A New Study Suggests Radiation Could Affect Teens' Memory Performance

While it’s pretty much a given that most of us rely heavily on our cell phones these days — between work commitments, family life, and social time — researchers have been investigating the effects of cell phone radiation on developing teen brains. And what they've found is that cell phone radiation could have an impact on memory. According to a study at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) may have some negative impact on those brain regions associated with memory — especially for teens.

Published on July 23 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the research examined the connection between RF-EMF exposure from various types of wireless communication devices and memory function in teens. The study involved 700 teens in Switzerland, and according to a recent press release, this study is the first to examine cumulative RF-EMF exposure in developing adolescent brains. Researchers found that ongoing exposure to RF-EMFs via wireless devices over the course of one year may have harmful effects on teens’ memories. Study author Martin Roosli, Head of Environmental Exposures and Health at Swiss TPH was quoted in a press release as saying that “This may suggest that indeed RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible for the observed associations.” PsychCentral notes that the most common way that cell phone radiation exposure happens is when the devices are held up against the head, as when, you know, you're calling someone.

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According to the press release via Swiss TPH, this study is a follow up to a previous study published in 2015, and suggests similar results. Figural memory is located primarily in the right brain hemisphere, and memory loss was most pronounced in teens who held their phones up to the right side of their heads.

The study’s authors note that other means of wireless communication, like sending texts, browsing the web, or playing games, expose us to much more minimal amounts of RF-EMF brain exposure, and don’t seem to have the same impact on memory performance. Roosli also notes that more research is needed to examine how RF-EMFs affect memory, and if other contributing factors might also be at play. For now, CBS notes that, according to public health officials in Britain, teens under age 16 should limit talking on cell phones as much as possible, and use hands free technology and texting instead (not that many teens are spending time making actual phone calls, anyway).

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Roosli further suggests that studying the effects of radiation technology on the brain is a pretty new field of study, but we can all minimize the risks associated with radiation exposure by “using headphones or the loud speaker while calling, in particular when network quality is low and the mobile phone is functioning at full power."

That being said, of course, as Vox put it in a recent article on cell phone radiation and its effects on cancer, the research around this field is ultimately tough to navigate, and the evidence isn't strong enough to compel someone to stop using their cell phone as they would normally. Everything in moderation, even your phone.