Objectives Over the past 10 years there has been increasing concern about the possible behavioural effects of mobile phone use. This systematic review and meta-analysis focuses on studies published since 1999 on the human cognitive and performance effects of mobile phone-related electromagnetic fields (EMF).
Methods PubMed, Biomed, Medline, Biological Sciences, PsychInfo, PsycARTICLES, Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management, Neurosciences Abstracts and Web of Science professional databases were searched and 24 studies selected for meta-analysis. Each study had to have at least one psychomotor measurement result as a main outcome. Data were analysed using standardised mean difference (SMD) as the effect size measure.
Results Only three tasks (2-back, 3-back and simple reaction time (SRT)) displayed significant heterogeneity, but after studies with extreme SMD were excluded using sensitivity analysis, the statistical significance disappeared (χ2(7)=1.63, p=0.20; χ2(6)=1.00, p=0.32; χ2(10)=14.04, p=0.17, respectively). Following sensitivity analysis, the effect of sponsorship and publication bias were assessed. Meta-regression indicated a significant effect (b1/40.12, p<0.05) only for the 2-back task with mixed funding (industry and public/charity). Funnel plot inspection revealed a significant publication bias only for two cognitive tasks: SRT (Begg's rank correlation r=0.443; Egger's test b=−0.652) and the subtraction task (Egger's test b=−0.687).
Conclusions Mobile phone-like EMF do not seem to induce cognitive and psychomotor effects. Nonetheless, the existence of sponsorship and publication biases should encourage WHO intervention to develop official research standards and guidelines. In addition, future research should address critical and neglected issues such as investigation of repeated, intensive and chronic exposures, especially in highly sensitive populations such as children.
- Electromagnetic fields
- mobile phone
- public health
- neurobehavioural effects
- non-ionizing radiation
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This is a reprint of a paper that first appeared in Occup Environ Med, October 2010, Volume 67, pages 708–716.
Funding This study was funded by intramural funds equally from the Department of Health Sciences, University of L'Aquila, Italy, and the Department of Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Italy.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.