By Brian James Rose
Can Exposure to Cellphones Cause Memory Loss? Since Cellphones were discovered, they have always been received with cynicism. Some people even decided to err on the side of caution by only limiting cellphone usage to absolutely necessary scenarios. But let’s face it, it’s practically impossible to avoid them entirely. So elemental have they become that they have essentially taken over responsibilities that used to be handled by our brains.
Basic important information that we used to have at the tip of our fingers, such as spouse’s cellphone number, are now LITERALLY at the “tip of our fingers” (pun intended); thanks to Smartphones. They have become our second brain and there is no longer a need to memorize such information. However, think of the brain, better yet, memory, like a muscle. If it’s not exercised, it gets weak; in this case, you experience memory loss and reduced cognitive function. Don’t take our word for it though. Let’s see what experts and science says.
Smartphones Are Addictive, But Why?
In a 2015 survey conducted by Kaspersky, 91 percent of smartphone users professed a strong dependency on the Internet and devices for memory purposes. In fact, 44 percent of those surveyed further admitted that they have everything they need to know or recall stored in their smartphone(s).
A 2017 review published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal by a group of psychologists from Temple University in Philadelphia provided an explanation for this. Every time we use our smartphones to check news feed, emails, social media, and so on, our brain releases dopamine – the feel-good chemical. Over time, we associate this activity (using our smartphones) with a reward system that keeps us “hooked”.
Link Between Electromagnetic Fields and Working Memory Processes
In 2017, a group of researchers from Alzheimer Hellas – a daycare center clinic based in Greece – set out to investigate how a person’s cognitive function and working memory processes are affected when they are exposed to the mobile phone electromagnetic field (EMF). The study involved 120 participants. 20 of whom had Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) while 64 were healthy individuals. Together, they formed the experimental group. Another group of 36 healthy people formed the control group.
After a series of controlled exposure to the electromagnetic field, the researchers observed that EMP negatively impacted people above 60 years old as well as those with mild cognitive impairment way more than it did on healthy individuals. The results were consistent with similar studies done on animals. However, it was also acknowledged that more accurate evaluation and validation tools to test EMP effects on the brain are needed.
Figural Memory Loss Linked to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMFs)
Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMFs) have long been suspected of increasing the risk of brain tumors. While this is yet to be conclusively proven, we now know that they have an impact on memory thanks to a study by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. 700 teens participated in this study. After a year of observation, figural memory loss was noted across the board but more pronounced in teenagers who held their phones on the right side of their heads. The lead author of the study, Martin Roosli, advocates for use of hands-free technology as well as using headphones and earphones to minimize exposure of RF-EMFs to the brain when using cellphones.
Multi-Tasking: Good or Bad for the Brain?
The question of whether multitasking is good for the brain is a somewhat controversial one. There is a school of thought that believes it boosts efficiency. On the other hand, some studies have linked multitasking to reduced IQ – at least in the context of using smartphones (or other electronic media). In one study, researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London linked multitasking on electronic devices to a significant lowering of the person’s IQ.
A separate study published in ‘Psychonomic Bulletin and Review’ by researchers from Stanford University’s Department of Psychology echoed similar sentiments. The study examined the impact of multitasking on both working memory and long-term memory. It revealed that multitasking compromises one’s ability to accomplish a single task satisfactorily. In the authors’ words, multitasking “allows goal-irrelevant information to compete with goal-relevant information”.
When all is said and done, we can at least acknowledge that given the cellphone’s young history, there is still a lot more to cover in regard to research on their safety and health implications. Until we have the full picture, it would perhaps be wise to take precautions by limiting cellphone use where possible; hard as that may be.
F. Kalafatakis, D Bekiaridis-Moschou, Eirini Gkioka, and Magda Tsolaki, Alzheimer Hellas, Petrou Sindica13, 54643, Thessaloniki, Greece; Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine (2017): “Mobile phone use for 5 minutes can cause significant memory impairment in humans”. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29324924/#:~:text=Conclusion%3A%20MP%20use%20has%20a,individuals%20with%20Mild%20Cognitive%20Impairment.
Editorial Staff, Kaspersky Labs, (2015): “Americans face Digital Amnesia as connected devices are increasingly trusted to recall memories”. Retrieved from https://usa.kaspersky.com/about/press-releases/2015_americans-face-digital-amnesia-as-connected-devices-are-increasingly-trusted-to-recall-memories
Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom, (2014): “Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex”. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174517/
Melina R Uncapher, Monica K Thieu, and Anthony D Wagner, Department of Psychology, Stanford University (2016): “Media multitasking and memory: Differences in working memory and long-term memory”. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26223469/
Martin Roosli, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (2018): “Mobile phone radiation may affect memory performance in adolescents, study finds”. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180719121803.htm
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