Here’s another urban myth that parents seem to be believing: cell phones make you grow horns, especially in young, developing bodies.
Here are the facts. No, your kids won’t grow horns from using their cell phones too much. No, we’re not going to see a whole generation of young people that look like Hellboy.
How It Started
Back in June 2019, research emerged online that sent parents into a panic. It said children who frequently use their cell phones might develop horn-like bone spurs on the base of their skull. Naturally, the story went viral. And… it wasn’t true.
According to Fortune Magazine, researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia found evidence that using cell phones “could be fundamentally altering our physiology.” That’s because when we use our phones we tilt our heads forward, putting pressure on the muscles behind our skulls, and causing bones to grow in the tendons and ligaments.
Are you reading this on your cell phone? Did you touch the back of your head? I’ll bet you did.
Fortune was hardly alone. Plenty of other outfits reported the same thing, with The Washington Post indicating this was “the first documentation of physiological skeletal adaptation to the penetration of advanced technology into everyday life.”
The study’s investigators said this should raise concerns about our kids’ musculoskeletal health, and that it reinforces “the need for prevention intervention through posture improvement education.”
The Truth Behind the Story
OK, now let’s step on the brakes and take a deep breath. As it turns out, there’s no solid evidence your cell phone-addicted child is going to transform into a Minotaur, Darth Maul or Ludo from Labyrinth.
Since the release of the University’s findings, they’ve been summarily debunked.
Snopes.com points out a slew of reporters and scientists have taken the Queensland researchers to task. The tech news site Gizmodo states investigators’ use of the term “hypothesis” alone is clear indication nothing they’ve said has actually been proven.
The New York Times reports even though hunching over any type of device for an extended period of time can cause pain, the study didn’t have a control group, so there was no way it could show cause and effect.
The Times also reports that the research only focused on a group of people “who were having enough neck trouble to visit a chiropractic clinic and require X-rays, so it’s not clear what bearing the results have on the rest of the population.”
Perhaps most importantly, the study did not actually determine how much time the individuals spent using their cell phones. So how in the world could the researchers conclude any physiological changes came about as a result of using the device?
Furthermore, can the growths really be called “horns”?
Time Magazine says that’s a sensationalistic overstatement. “The growths [in the study] were between 10 and 30 millimeters,” Time says. “…certainly noticeable, but likely less dramatic than the mental image inspired by the headlines.”
Time goes on to say these types of growths have been seen many times before, and that a 2017 paper published in the BMJ explains that occipital growths, particularly in men, are not uncommon and “often [present] in late adolescence due to growth spurts.”
And Paleoanthropologist John Hawkes points out the paper included a graph that didn’t match its text. He says this and other major errors in the report are an indication the study is baloney. Rubbish. Hogwash.
“Horns growing on young people’s skulls?” Hawkes says. “It’s a juicy headline, but it’s not the truth.”
So, there you have it. Your kids might develop other problems from using their phones excessively, but horns are absolutely not one of them.
Let me just check the back of my head…