Executive functioning issues

Do Cell Phone Signals Cause Executive Functioning Issues?

By Nelson Dorta

Is there a link between cell phone signals and the increase in ADHD and other cognitive issues? Does research show that EMF and RF cause executive functioning issues?

Nelson Dorta

Pediatric Neuropsychologist

It’s hard for scientists to rule out risks completely. But to date, no well-designed studies have shown that cell phone signals cause or even increase the risk of ADHD or executive functioning issues.

A cell phone works by sending low-powered radio waves. These are called radio frequency (RF) waves. They’re also called electromagnetic fields (EMF).

So far studies haven’t linked cell phone signals to any lasting effects on brain function. There are some short-term effects. But based on current evidence, they appear to be harmless.

Here’s an illustration that may help explain it. Think of cell phone signals as a heating pad. The pad changes the activity in the part of your body it’s touching by warming it up. But the activity of those cells returns to normal when you take the heating pad away. The same thing seems to happen when you end a call on your cell phone.

In a nutshell, transmitting cell phone signals next to people’s heads will change their normal pattern of brain waves. But these changes are transient. This means they only last a short time and don’t affect the brain in a “bad” way.

Science still has a long way to go before we can fully understand the lasting effects of cell phone use—if there are any. So far, long-term studies have mostly focused on any possible links to cancer and other health effects. Fortunately, researchers have yet to find any links.

There have also been studies on cell phone signals’ impact on things like attention and other executive functions. Those studies haven’t found any effects either.

It’s also important to note that the ways we use these devices are changing too. For example, less talking and more texting means having our heads farther away from the source of these signals.

As our cell phones and our habits change, it’s good to remember this general advice: Everything in moderation is OK and in excess is bad.

Excessive cell phone use probably isn’t good for kids for many reasons, not just because of the worry that it could affect the brain. Time spent on a phone is time not spent interacting face to face, studying or sleeping.

About the Author

Portrait of Dr. Nelson Dorta

Nelson Dorta is a pediatric neuropsychologist and an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University.

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