Behavioral and cognitive effects of microwave exposure

Bioelectromagnetics. 2003:Suppl 6:S39-62. doi: 10.1002/bem.10169.


This paper presents an overview of the recent behavioral literature concerning microwave exposure and discusses behavioral effects that have supported past exposure standards. Other effects, which are based on lower levels of exposure, are discussed as well, relative to setting exposure standards. The paper begins with a brief discussion of the ways in which behavioral end points are investigated in the laboratory, together with some of the methodological considerations pertinent to such studies when radio frequency (RF) exposure is involved. It has been pointed out by several sources that exposure to RF radiation can lead to changes in the behavior of humans and laboratory animals that can range from the perceptions of warmth and sound to lethal body temperatures. Behavior of laboratory animals can be perturbed and, under certain other conditions, animals will escape and subsequently avoid RF fields; but they will also work to obtain a burst of RF energy when they are cold. Reports of change of cognitive function (memory and learning) in humans and laboratory animals are in the scientific literature. Mostly, these are thermally mediated effects, but other low level effects are not so easily explained by thermal mechanisms. The phenomenon of behavioral disruption by microwave exposure, an operationally defined rate decrease (or rate increase), has served as the basis for human exposure guidelines since the early 1980s and still appears to be a very sensitive RF bioeffect. Nearly all evidence relates this phenomenon to the generation of heat in the tissues and reinforces the conclusion that behavioral changes observed in RF exposed animals are thermally mediated. Such behavioral alteration has been demonstrated in a variety of animal species and under several different conditions of RF exposure. Thermally based effects can clearly be hazardous to the organism and continue to be the best predictor of hazard for homosapiens. Nevertheless, similar research with man has not been conducted. Although some studies on human perception of RF exist, these should be expanded to include a variety of RF parameters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Behavior / radiation effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / radiation effects
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / radiation effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition / radiation effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Drug Tolerance / radiation effects
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Microwaves*
  • Primates
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology
  • Radiation Dosage


  • Psychotropic Drugs