Becoming electro-hypersensitive: A replication study

Bioelectromagnetics. 2019 Apr;40(3):188-200. doi: 10.1002/bem.22180.


Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to Electromagnetic Fields (IEI-EMF) is an emerging environmental illness that is characterized by the attribution of various symptoms to electromagnetic fields (EMF). To date, research has not succeeded in objectifying the illness' semiology or etiology. IEI-EMF remains impossible to define other than in terms of the attributions of the persons affected. Yet, the genesis of these attributions is still not well understood. This study's objective is to replicate previous results relating to them, while correcting their limitations. Sixteen electro-hypersensitive (EHS) subjects lent themselves to both a sociological interview and a medical interview, and completed a set of standardized questionnaires. Three distinct types of biographical trajectories leading to persons becoming convinced of their hypersensitivity were identified, which were called the Reticent Attribution model, the Prior Attribution model, and the By Proxy Attribution model. These three models of EHS attribution process do not appear to lead to clinically distinct forms of IEI-EMF. What distinguishes them is the way in which the initial suspicion of the electromagnetic environment emerges. They demonstrate a diversification of the pathways to IEI-EMF. Nonetheless, in each model, the learning process that enables the EHS attribution to be materialized and operationalized is identical. The ability to establish causation between the electromagnetic environment and their condition is therefore the result of EHS subjects' trajectories, rather than their starting point. This observation is not congruent with models attributing IEI-EMF to nocebo reactions, which raises the question of these models' ecological validity. Bioelectromagnetics. 2019;9999:XX-XX. © 2019 Bioelectromagnetics Society.

Keywords: EMF risk perception; IEI-EMF; attribution process; idiopathic environmental intolerance; nocebo effect.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / etiology*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / pathology
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / physiopathology