A sizable number of people are convinced that cellphones and wireless internet make them physically ill, and dozens have gone so far as to give up their lives and move to the isolated, signal-free Radio Quiet Zone in the mountains of West Virginia to alleviate the symptoms. Via Inkfish, a recent experiment at King’s College London points to the disease being psychological:
Subjects at put on headband-mounted antennas. They were told that the researchers were testing a “new kind of WiFi,” and that once the signal started they should carefully monitor any symptoms in their bodies. Then the researchers left the room. For 15 minutes, the subjects watched a WiFi symbol flash on a laptop screen.
In reality, there was no WiFi switched on during the experiment. Yet 82 of the 147 subjects—more than half—reported symptoms. Two even asked for the experiment to be stopped early because the effects were too severe to stand.
There’s no known scientific reason why a wireless signal might cause physical harm. And studies have found that even people who claim to be sensitive to electromagnetic fields can’t actually sense them. Their symptoms are more likely due to nocebo, the evil twin of the placebo effect.
“It suggests that sensational media reports especially in combination with personality factors (in this case anxiety) increase the likelihood for symptom reports,” psychologist Michael Witthöft says.