Dr. Hugh Taylor was curious when he read a report saying mothers of kids with behavioral problems seem to spend a lot of time on cell phones. Did the moms’ chatty habits affect the children’s behavior, he wondered, or could cell phones themselves somehow cause the kid’s attention deficit disorders?
Taylor, a Yale School of Medicine professor who studies fetal development, decided to find out. So he got cell phones for 33 expecting mice.
The professor suspended the phones a few inches above the rodents' feeding bottles. Then he left them on an active, though silent, call for the mice’s 19-day gestation period, steadily emitted radiation. “We’re in-network, so we didn’t get charged for the minutes,” Taylor assured us. Meanwhile, as a control, 42 other pregnant mice lived under the same conditions, except the phones above their bottles were deactivated.
Once born, the radiation-exposed baby mice were found to be hyperactive, and to have impaired memory compared to the control group. The exposed group’s little brains also betrayed signs of weakened function in the prefrontal cortex, which helps maintain focus.
“This is the first study showing that cell phones can cause neural problems, albeit in a mouse,” Taylor says. “It at least warrants further investigation.”
Cell phone radiation isn’t strong enough to kill or mutate cells, Taylor says, but it can do more subtle things, like raise tissue temperature and affect cell membranes in a fetus’s brain. “Those effects could cause the brain to be wired differently,” he says. And that could set the stage for behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
There are, however, big differences between human and mouse babies, such as skull thickness, volume of amniotic fluid and the sizes of their mothers, so human babies might not be affected in the same way. “I don’t want to say we have definitely shown that cell phones can be dangerous to humans in pregnancy,” he adds. But he does suggest that pregnant women might want to keep their phones away from their bellies.