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To test whether media reports promote the development of electrosensitivity.
Probands were randomly assigned to watch a television report about the adverse health effects of WiFi (n=76) or a control film (n=71). After watching their film, participants received a sham exposure to a WiFi signal for 15 minutes. During this sham exposure participants were asked to monitor for possible symptoms that might develop and were told that they could ask to terminate the exposure if any symptoms became too strong.
Watching the film about the adverse health effects of WiFi increased the worries about electromagnetic fields compared to the group having watched the control film. This effect was stronger in people with higher state anxiety.
82 of the 147 participants reported symptoms which they attributed to the sham exposure. Participants who watched the WiFi-film reported more and stronger symptoms after the sham exposure than those who watched the control-film, especially participants with higher state anxiety. Attributions of symptoms to the WiFi sham exposure were strongest in people who watched the WiFi-film and who also had higher levels of state anxiety, with high levels of somatization and more concerns about electromagnetic fields.
The likelihood of people from the experimental group who attributed their symptoms to the sham exposure increased believing themselves to be electrosensitive compared to people having watched the control film.
The study demonstrated that media reports about the possible adverse health effects of modern technologies could elevate levels of concern among the public and increase the likelihood of reported symptoms following sham exposure.