Researchers from Imperial College London have launched a study into the effect mobile phones may have on children’s cognitive development.
The three-year study will follow around 2,500 year seven children – 11-12 year olds – from over 160 outer-London schools starting September.
The children will be assessed again in year nine to see how their cognitive abilities have developed with mobile-phone use.
The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) was commissioned by the Department of Health and will be led by Dr Mireille Toledano, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the college’s school of public health.
In an interview with Nursing Times, she said: “As mobile phones are a new and widespread technology central to our lives, carrying out the SCAMP study is important in order to provide the evidence base with which to inform policy and through which parents and their children can make informed life choices,”
So far, the data on the effects of mobile-phone usage on children “has been insufficient”, she told Nursing Times, adding that children may be more vulnerable to the effects of mobile phone usage as “their brains and skulls are still developing”.
The need for the new study was highlighted by the World Health Organization – 70% of children aged 11-12 own a mobile phone and 90% by the age 14.
Dr Toledano described the cognitive functions that will be studied as “executive functions”, which include thinking and concentration, as well as arithmetic and language skills.
In the school-based part of the study, computerised games testing the children’s “cognitive flexibility”, memory and motor skills will be used. The children and parents will be asked to complete surveys at home containing questions about how children use their mobile phone devices.
Children who have smartphones will also be asked to download an app which will tell researchers whether the children are making their voicecalls directly or are using handsfree.
Dr Toledano noted that the direct use of mobile phones allowed the device to come into contact with the part of the head where the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are located, which are both involved cognitive development.
The children taking part in this study were expected to have received their invitations last week.