60-Second Mind

Cell Phones Sometimes Cause Real Pain

People increasingly complain of being "electrosensitive," claiming that the electromagnetic fields emitted from mobile phones cause them real pain. Christie Nicholson reports

 [Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]


Various studies have reassured us that mobile phones will not give us cancer. But cell phones can cause real pain. That’s according to an article in press at the journal NeuroImage.

People are increasingly complaining of being “electrosensitive.” For them, the cell’s electromagnetic fields cause severe pain—and in Sweden sufferers build houses that block the supposed damaging electric fields.
But there’s a glitch. Studies have shown that such victims feel the same discomfort when in the presence of fake phones as they do when they’re near real phones.  So what’s going on?

Research at the University of Regensburg finds one possible source of this pain.  They told 30 participants they’d be exposed to two stimuli:  a heat-emitting thermode and an active cell phone. The thermode was real, but the phone was a phony.

When exposed to heat, the electrosensitive group, as well as the control group, complained of discomfort. But when exposed to the pretend phone, only the allegedly electrosensitive ones reported pain.

And their reports matched their actual physiological response. When exposed to the sham brain scans the control group revealed no effect. But the electrosensitive group showed increased activity in brain areas specific to pain perception.

So the pain is real—even if the phone isn’t. And the real cause lies somewhere in their hurting heads. 

—Christie Nicholson


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