Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
A new study by British researchers will be the largest-ever to examine whether chronic use of mobile phones and other wireless devices affects kids’ and teenagers’ brain development. Reuters has more:
The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones, or SCAMP, project will focus on cognitive functions such as memory and attention, which continue to develop into adolescence – just the age when teenagers start to own and use personal phones.
While there is no convincing evidence that radio waves from mobile phones affect health, to date most scientific research has focused on adults and the potential risk of brain cancers.
Because of that, scientists are uncertain as to whether children’s developing brains may be more vulnerable than adults’ brains – partly because their nervous systems are still developing, and partly because they are likely to have a higher cumulative exposure over their lifetimes.
“Scientific evidence available to date is reassuring and shows no association between exposure to radiofrequency waves from mobile phone use and brain cancer in adults in the short term – i.e. less than 10 years of use,” said Paul Elliott, director of the Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London, who will co-lead the research.
“But the evidence available regarding long term heavy use and children’s use is limited and less clear.”
Mobile phone use is ubiquitous, with the World Health Organisation estimating 4.6 billion subscriptions globally. In Britain, some 70 percent of 11 to 12 year-olds now own a mobile phone, and that figure rises to 90 percent by age 14.
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Image: Teen on cell phones, via Shutterstock
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Friday, November 1st, 2013
Children who experience poverty in early childhood are more likely to have smaller brains, as well as a lessened ability to process certain types of sensory information, new research published in the journals JAMA Pediatrics and the Journal of Neuroscience has found. More from Time.com:
Previous work suggested that poverty can contribute to compromised cognitive function and low performance in schools, but using imaging, researchers have documented measurable changes in the brain tied to poverty.
In one study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, children who grew up in impoverished households showed smaller white and grey matter in their brains compared with those who had more means — these make up the density of nerve connections between different parts of the brain. The less wealthy kids also developed smaller hippocampus and amygdala regions, which are involved in regulating attention, memory and emotions.
According to the researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the smaller brain regions may be due to the increased stress and anxiety that these children experience growing up in families where finances are tight, and therefore parental support and interaction with children suffers.
In the second study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at Northwestern University, in Illinois, connected lower maternal education, a common symptom of poverty, to poor processing of sound in the brains of children raised in lower-resource environments. The researchers found that adolescents whose mothers had less education were more likely to register more varied and noisier nerve responses when hearing speech than those whose mothers had more schooling. That response, according to previous work, could translate into poor reading skills. The scientific team suspects that the lack of constant verbal interaction between mother and child could be one factor in the noisier brain responses to speech, since such back-and-forth can prime a still-developing brain to isolate and recognize speech more efficiently. Other data established that children in higher-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than those in lower-income families where parents have less education.
The good news, however, is that the effects may be reversible. Families don’t chose poverty, but changes in caregiving, especially during early childhood, could avoid some of the physical changes the scientists measured.
Image: Sad child, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have discovered that electroencephalography (EEG), a non-invasive test that measures brain activity, may be able to distinguish children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as early at age 2. Time.com reports:
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The researchers measured EEG patterns in 430 children with autism and 554 control subjects ages 2 to 12. Those with autism had activity patterns that consistently showed reduced connectivity between brain regions, especially in areas associated with language on the left side of the brain.
“The brain works like a series of computers and they have to hook to one another through nerves in the brain in order to connect and function together,” says study author Dr. Frank H. Duffy of the department of psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We can estimate from EEGs how well regions connect to one another. If there is high coherence between different regions of the brain, this indicates the brain is well connected.”
The researchers eliminated children with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome, focusing instead on those with ”classic” autism symptoms who had been referred for EEG by neurologists, psychiatrists or developmental pediatricians to rule out seizure disorders. “We studied the typical autistic child who is seeing a behavioral specialist. These children are hard to study and it is usually difficult to get EEG recordings from them,” says Duffy.
To get an EEG reading, children must wear a cap of electrodes that record electrical signals signifying brain activity. The research team used certain techniques to allow clean readings from the participants, such as letting the children take breaks and adjusting for behaviors like body and eye movement and muscle activity that can throw off recordings.