BACKGROUND: The steady increase of mobile phone usage has led to a rising concern about possible adverse health effects of radio frequency electromagnetic field (RF EMF) exposure at intensities even below the existing safety limits. Accumulating evidence suggests that pulse-modulated RF EMF may alter brain physiology. Yet, whereas effects on the human electroencephalogram in waking and sleep have repeatedly been shown in recent years, results on cognitive performance are inconsistent.
METHODS: This review compares 41 provocation studies regarding the effects of RF EMF exposure similar to mobile telephones on cognitive performance measures in humans. The studies were identified via systematic searches of the databases Pub Med and ISI Web of Science and were published in peer-reviewed journals between 1998 and the end of 2009.
RESULTS: Based on a critical discussion within the scope of methodological standards it is concluded that state-of-the-art-methods in bio-electromagnetic research on RF EMF effects and cognition have neither been specified nor fully implemented over the last 10-11 years. The lack of a validated tool, which reliably assesses changes in cognitive performance caused by RF EMF exposure, may contribute to the current inconsistencies in outcomes. The high variety of findings may also be due to methodological issues such as differences in sample size and the composition of study groups, experimental design, exposure setup as well as the exposure conditions, and emphasizes the need for a standardized protocol in bioelectromagnetic research.
CONCLUSIONS: At present, no underlying biological mechanism has been identified which mediates the effects on brain functioning as observed in electroencephalographic (EEG) studies. A future aim must be to identify this mechanism as well as a reliable exposure protocol in order to gain more insights into possible behavioral and related health consequences of high-frequency EMF exposure.