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By Emma Cooper
Here’s one number to keep in mind during your next mobile phone conversation: 50. A new experiment shows that spending 50 minutes with an active phone pressed up to the ear increases activity in the brain. This brain activity probably doesn't make you smarter. When mobile phones are on, they emit energy in the form of radiation that could be harmful, especially after years of mobile phone usage.
The human brain is sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation that is emitted from mobile phones. All types of radiation are waves that carry energy from one place to another. Radiation is another way to say energy; it doesn’t mean the energy is always radioactive. Mobile phones emit radio waves, the type of radiation that carries the least amount of energy. Radio waves are different from the radiation used in X-rays or nuclear power plants, which have much more energy.
The 47 participants in the experiment had two Samsung mobile phones strapped to his or her head, one on each ear. The phone on the left ear was off. The phone on the right ear played a message for 50 minutes, but the participants couldn't hear it because the sound was off. After 50 minutes with two phones strapped to their heads, the participants were given PET scans.
A PET scan is a way to see what's going on inside the body. It’s like the opposite of an X-ray: A person is injected with a chemical that produces radiation. That chemical goes to the part of the body that the scientists want to study. There, the radiation acts like light: it’s absorbed in some places, passed on in others, and reflected in others. By studying those patterns, the scientists can see what’s happening inside the body! Fancy huh?
The PET scan showed that the left side of each participant's brain hadn't changed during the experiment. The right side of the brain, however, had used more glucose. These right-side brain mobiles were using almost as much glucose as the brain uses when a person is talking. This suggests that the mobiles there were active even without the person hearing anything. That activity, the scientists say, was probably triggered by radiation from the phone.
For those who don't want to wait to find out for sure whether mobile phones are bad for the brain, there are ways to talk more safely. You can have short and sweet conversations, use a speakerphone or keep the phone away from your head!