The Effects of Cell Phone Usage on the Reaction Time of Humans
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
KNAPP, B R (2009). The Effects of Cell Phone Usage on the Reaction Time of Humans . National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 12. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 22, 2014 .

The Effects of Cell Phone Usage on the Reaction Time of Humans
BENJAMIN KNAPP
Department of Psychology University of Central Missouri

Sponsored by: PATRICIA MARSH (pmarsh@ucmo.edu)
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study was to examine whether the use of a cell phone would have any effect on the reaction times of participants. The reaction times of male and female college students (N=16) were tested using a dropped meter stick and a computer program. The participants were then instructed to hold a cell phone, in talk mode, to their head for ten minutes, and reaction time tests were administered again. No significant differences were found between pre-cell phone exposure and post-cell phone exposure.
The Effects of Cell Phone Usage on the Reaction Time of HumansThe United Nations International Telecommunications Union (2008) currently estimates that nearly half of the world’s population uses a cell phone and by the end of 2008 there will be four billion subscribers worldwide. With billions of users and billions of dollars spent annually on wireless telecommunication equipment, it seems that the ability to communicate while mobile is of great value to many people. However, wireless technologies do have their potential drawbacks, and in spite of research that has been conducted on this subject, the quantities and qualities of those drawbacks are not yet clear. The unwanted consequences of wireless use can be divided into two broad categories. The first is the potential distraction that cell phones represent. This effect can be particularly troublesome while the user is also engaging in focus intensive tasks such as driving, working, and classroom situations. The other category of contraindication is the effect or effects on biological systems of the electromagnetic force (E.M.F.) that radiates from these devices. This is a controversial topic, as there is not yet a consensus from the scientific community on the effects or lack thereof. Indeed there are schisms and debates between those who believe that wireless devices are benign, and those who believe that they are in fact dangerous, or at least potentially harmful. The primary research focus on the distracting properties of cell phones has been to examine the use of a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Driving is a task that requires varying amounts of attention from the driver, and inattention at the wrong time can cause injury or death. The high rate of cell phone usage and the high rate of cell phone users who talk and drive represent potentially severe problems, in terms of money and the human cost. Several studies have established that conversing on a cell phone while driving reduces the ability to attend to the environment external to the conversation, or in other words pay attention to the road, even if the driver is not holding phone (Just, Keller, & Cynkar 2008; Larrea, Perchet, Perrin, & Amenedo 2001; Strayer, Drews, & Johnston 2003). In another study Strayer, Drews, and Johnston (2003) found that the impairment from talking on a cell phone is of a similar level to driving with a blood alcohol content of .08%, which is the legal limit of intoxication in most states of the U. S.With the coalescing of a consensus that cell phone use degrades driving ability, some states have instituted restrictions on driving while using a cell phone. As of yet, no states have completely banned cell phone use while driving for the general public, but seventeen states plus the District of Columbia have enacted such a restriction for bus drivers. Five states, plus the District of Columbia, have instituted a ban on using handheld cell phones while driving (Governor’s State Highway Association, 2008). The cell phone is both a receiver and transmitter of microwave radiation. The other primary focus of cell phone related research has been the effects of electromagnetic force (EMF) biological systems, humans being the primary concern. A survey of the research literature suggests that the mechanisms and extent of the electromagnetic spectrum’s interaction with biological systems is subtle and not yet understood. While few people would put their head in a running microwave oven, billions of people worldwide are willing to use a microwave transmitter directly adjacent to their head, in the form of cellular phone. The wireless industry’s firm position is that there are no negative or harmful effects from these technologies. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association web site states “To date, the available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones. Many studies… have not discovered any negative biological effects. Some studies have suggested such a connection, but their findings have not been replicated or supported in additional research.” Standing somewhat in contrast to those claims from the tele-com industry are studies that have found or replicated unwanted effects of EMF exposure. For example, talking on a cell phone has been shown to have a positive correlation with decreased sperm motility in men (Deepinder, Sharma, Ranga, & Li, 2008; Fejes, et al., 2005, & Agarwal). Radiation from cell phones has also been shown to delay onset or cause changes in sleep patterns (Arnetz et al., 2008). The self named REFLEX study, published in 2004 was a large study conducted by several independent laboratories. The primary goal was to examine effects of EMF, below levels deemed safe, on in-vitro cells (Adlkolfer et al., 2008). The researchers found DNA strand breakage, micro-nuclei formation, and free-radical formation correlated with EMF exposure. The overall results of the study led them to state in the summary that “…there exists no justification anymore to claim, that we are not aware of any pathophysiological mechanisms which could be the basis for the development of functional disturbances and any kind of chronic diseases in animal and man” (Adlkofer, et al., 2008, p. 222).This glaring dichotomy of findings and beliefs about the effects of EMF radiation on humans seems to be a result of several of factors, such as exposure variables and emotional bias. Exposure variables like electromagnetic frequency, duration, intensity, genetic predisposition, can all confound results. With billions of dollars at stake for the tele-communication industry if negative health consequences can be reliably demonstrated, the risk of emotional bias influencing the design and results of the studies. Likewise, people who are already convinced of the harmful effects EMF exposure are likely to discount findings that do not show negative effects. Talking on a cell phone while driving can slow reaction time, and this effect is assumed to be due to the attention that the conversation requires. This study will look at the effects of cell phone EMF radiation independent of the conversational distractions. It is possible that the EMF radiation could decrease or decrease reaction times, or perhaps have no effect. Knowledge of the impact on reaction times could contribute to the construction of an accurate model of the interaction of humans and the electromagnetic realm. MethodParticipants The participants were a mix of male (n=10) and female (n=6) students from The University of Central Missouri. The average age of the participants was 21. MaterialsThe materials for the study consisted of a cell phone, Motorola Rizr V.1, which was held to the participant’s ear for 10 minutes while the phone was in talk mode. A meter stick that was dropped in between the participant’s fingers, and a computer program from the Explore Learning Company, which measures reaction time to auditory and visual stimulus, were used to test the participant’s reaction times. The computer test consisted of colored shapes flashing quickly on the screen and short noises from the computer speakers. The participants were instructed to click the mouse whenever they saw or heard the signals from the computer. The computer measured the amount of time it took for the participant to click the mouse after the auditory or visual stimulus. The first was to hold a meter stick vertically in front of them. The participants were instructed that the research would drop the meter stick and they were to catch in between their fingers as quickly as possible. This was repeated three times.ProcedureThe participants were asked to confirm that they had not used a cell phone for at least half an hour prior to the start of the experiment. The participant’s reaction times were then tested with the two different methods of the meter stick drop test and computer testing. The participants then held the cell phone, in talk mode, to their ear for ten minutes. The reaction time tests were then repeated.Results 16 participants were tested. The results of the reaction time tests were analyzed using correlated T-tests in SPSS 16.0. The analysis found that the differences between the pre-cell phone exposure reaction times and post-cell phone exposure reaction times were not statistically significant. The reaction time scores are graphed below: Discussion This study was designed to test the hypothesis that cell phone use affects human reaction times. 16 Participants were administered two different reaction time tests, a meter stick drop test and a computer test. The participants then used a cell phone, in talk mode, for ten minutes. Both reaction time tests were immediately given again. The pre-cell phone use reaction times where then compared with the post-cell phone use reaction times. No significant differences where found between the conditions. The null hypothesis, that cell phone use does not create a significant difference in reaction times, was accepted. If this research is conducted again, several possible confounds can be considered and controlled for. The sample size was relatively small (N=16), increasing the sample would net a higher statistical power. The possibility of practice effects affected the reaction time scores is likely. The participants may have improved their scores on the second bank of tests due to having taken the tests once before. If running this study again it is suggested that the post-exposure tests should be run as the first bank of tests for half of the participants, and the non-cell phone exposure condition tested at later session, in order to control for practice effects.The participants were exposed to the cell phone for ten minutes, whereas people routinely talk for more than ten minutes at a time on cell phones. A longer exposure time could reveal significant effects. Another issue to consider is the saturation of cell phone signals present in the environment. Even people who do not use cell phones are exposed to “second-hand” microwave radiation from cell phones, towers, and Wi-Fi stations, which are now extant in virtually every area in industrialized nations. An ideal test would be to administer the reaction time tests to a sample population from an area that has little if any wireless broadcasting occurring, and compare the results to a sample population from an area with wireless services. However logistical and ethical considerations would make this a difficult experiment to set up. As wireless technologies become more widespread, it is hoped that more research on the electromagnetic effects on living systems will be performed, and examined by independent scientists, industry, and policy makers. ReferencesAdlkofer, F., Tauber, R., Rudiger, H. W., Wobus, A. M., Trillo, A., Leszczynski, D., Kolb, H. A., et. al. (2004). Risk evaluation of potential environmental hazards from low frequency electromagnetic field exposure using sensitive in vitro methods. European Union Quality of Life and Management of Resources. Retrieved September 21, 2008 from http://www.itis.ethz.ch/downloads/REFLEX_Final%20Report_171104.pdf Agarwal, A., Deepinder, F., Sharma, R. K., Ranga, G., & Li, J. (2008). Effect of cell phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study. Fertility and Sterility, 89, 124-128. Retrieved on November 29, 2008 http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(07)00332-9/abstract.Arnetz, B. B., Akerstedt, T., Hillert, L., Lowden, A., Kuster, N., & Wiholm, C. (2008). The Effects of 884 MHz GSM Wireless Communication Signals on Self-reported Symptom and Sleep (EEG)- An Experimental Provocation Study. Progress in Electromagnetic Research. Retrieved on December 2, 2008, from http://piers.mit.edu/piersonline/piers.phpCellular Telecommunications Industry Association website. Consumer Info page, Wireless Safety Retrieved November 13, 2008, from http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/10371Governor’s Highway Safety Association. Retrieved November 3, 2008 from http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.htmlFejes I., Zavaczki, Z., Szollosi, J., Koloszar,S., Daru, J., Kovacs, L., & Pal, A. (2005). Is there a relationship between cell phone use and semen quality? Archives of Andrology, 51, 385–393. Retrieved November 29, 2008 from the PsychARTICLES database.Just, M. A., Keller, T. A., Cynkar, J., (2008). A decrease in brain activation associated with driving when listening to someone speak [Electronic version]. Brain Research, 1205, 70-80. Larrea, G. L, Perchet, C., Perrin, F. ,Amenedo, E. (2001). Interference of cellular phone conversations with visuomotor tasks: An ERP study. Journal of Psychophysiology,15, 14–21. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from PsycArticles database.Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J. (2003). Fatal distraction? A comparison of the cell-phone driver and the drunk driver. International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, 25-30. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center web site: http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/DrivingAssessment2003.pdfStrayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., Johnston, W. A. (2003). Cell Phone-Induced Failures of Visual Attention During Simulated Driving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 9, 23-32. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from PsycArticles database. United Nations International Telecommunications Union, (2008, September 9). Number of cell phone subscribers to hit 4 billion this year, UN says. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en /ev.php-URL_ID=27530&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.htmlU.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2008, April). Driver distraction: A review of the current state-of-knowledge. ( Publication No. DOT HS 810 704). Retrieved November 2, 2008 from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Multimedia/PDFs/Crash%20Avoidance/2008/DOT-HS-810-704.pdf

Submitted 07/28/2009
Accepted 07/28/2009

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