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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
Essays and Blogs Concerning Mental and Emotional Health

Cell Phone Radiation Slows Reaction Time, Improves Memory

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 30th 2006

Talking on the cell phone while you're driving a car is not a great idea. Doing so divides your attention into two parts (1) watching the road for problems, and (2) listening to the conversation and thinking of what you'll say next. We know from years of cognitive psychology research that dividing attention on tasks generally degrades performance on those tasks. Dividing attention while driving takes your attention away from driving, which can have life-threatening results. Numerous cell-phone related accidents have prompted many states to ban driving while using the things.

Now, researchers in Australia look to have discovered another reason why driving and dialing is a bad idea. (see It seems that the radiation from cell phones actually excerts a small but real short-term effect on brain activity, reducing the brain's general reaction time abilities. In effect, talking on the cell phone appears to change your brain, making you respond slower than normal.

Following well established laborartory procedure, Dr. Con Stough, director of the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, and his colleagues divided study participants into experiental and control groups, and then exposed the experimental group to cell-phone equivalent amounts of electromagnetic radiation (e.g., radio waves). The control group got treated similarly, except they did not receive any actual radiation. After exposure, both groups of participants sat for neuropsychological examinations which measured their brain functioning through indirect measurements of mental performance: memory, attention, reaction time, etc. Statistical examination of the neuropsychological data revealed that the radiation-exposed group showed a slight impairment in terms of reaction time responding, and also, a slight memory benefit.

Impaired reaction time would be a very bad thing if you were driving; you would take longer than normal to step on the breaks in an emergency, for example. Such a time delay might be the difference between avoiding an accident and participating in one. What is facinating here is how this reaction time effect attributable to cell phones is independent of the divided attention problem already mentioned. If you use a cell phone while driving, you are apparently setting yourself up for a double wammy of attention problems: the divided attention effect will distract you AND the radiation effect may very well slow you down. Put the two together and you have a good set of reasons for why you shouldn't use the phone while driving! Or, for that matter, while operating any heavy machinery.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

science fair - Emily - Sep 1st 2010

This was super duper helpful. Thank you times a trillion for your help! :)

science fair project - deejaay - Jan 30th 2010

you just help me do my science fair project thanks dude

seeking 4 info - dodoi - Jan 5th 2010

can u post another article about cellphones ? about how it affects people psychologically ? i very much need it .. or just suggested books that i could see ? oh .. i hardly find reference 4 it .. help !

KOOL - chicken noodle soup - Nov 1st 2009

dude u really helped me out jst now.... thanx ur a life saver

Now i understand - vangie gomez - May 17th 2009

Now i understand that s why i forget my things that i bought,its bec. of the cellphone radiation,cause my husband call me & my cp battery is low.

cell phones and mental illness - c.b. rogers - Mar 30th 2009
Believe using a cell phone for over 1 hour per day can cause the possibility or trigger, mental illness.  An noting an instance of such by my son's companion and she began 2 months ago with hearing people talking about her and throwing tantrums at her supposed knowledge of the people talking about her.  It progressed to full verbal and hallucinatory yesterday.  Waiting for MRI results to see if any brain damage can be seen.  Would like to see a grant on this, since it is obvious that the phone usage could cause this.  Thanks CB  If you have any ideas. e mail me.

Thanks! - - Nov 9th 2008

i'm working on my science fair project about cell phones and reaction times and this gave me lots of info to work on. It's so well written and helped me very very much. Thanks for the help!

Thanks - - Nov 5th 2006
Thankyou so much. I was working on a school project, and wasn't able to find info. about cell phones and reaction time. This was a very well written article that gave me so much information that I needed in order to write my research paper. thanks again!!!!!

thank you - - Sep 14th 2006
This article provided so much information that I have been searching for. Well written and easy to understand. Thanks.

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