Electromagnetic radiation The notion that a tin foil hat can significantly reduce the intensity of incident radio frequency radiation on the wearer's brain has some scientific validity, as the effect of strong radio waves has been documented for quite some time. A well-constructed tin foil enclosure would approximate a Faraday cage, reducing the amount of (typically harmless) radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation passing through to the interior of the structure. A common high school physics demonstration involves placing an AM radio on tin foil, and then covering the radio with a metal bucket. This leads to a noticeable reduction in signal strength. The efficiency of such an enclosure in blocking such radiation depends on the thickness of the tin foil, as dictated by the skin depth, the distance the radiation can propagate in a particular non-ideal conductor. For half-millimetre-thick tin foil, radiation above about 20 kHz (i.e., including both AM and FM bands) would be partially blocked, although tin foil is not sold in this thickness, so numerous layers of tin foil would be required to achieve this effect.
The effectiveness of the tin foil hat as electromagnetic shielding for stopping radio waves is greatly reduced by it not being a complete enclosure. Placing an AM radio under a metal bucket without a conductive layer underneath demonstrates the relative ineffectiveness of such a setup. Indeed, because the effect of an ungrounded Faraday cage is to partially reflect the incident radiation, a radio wave that is incident on the inner surface of the hat (i.e., coming from underneath the hat-wearer) would be reflected and partially 'focused' towards the user's brain. However the hat may be partially grounded by the conductive properties of the skin with which it contacts.
A study by graduate students at MIT determined that a tin foil hat could attenuate incoming radiation depending on frequency. At WIFI frequencies - 2.4 GHz is attenuated by up to 90 dB; the effect was observed to be roughly independent of the relative placement of the wearer and radiation source. At some microwave wavelengths, the skin depth is less than the thickness of even the thinnest foil.
A belief also exists that tinfoil is a protective measure against the effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Despite some allegations that EMR exposure has negative health consequences, at this time no link has been established between the radio-frequency EMR that tin foil hats are meant to protect against and subsequent ill health.
In 1962, Allan H. Frey discovered that reception of the induced sounds by radio-frequency electromagnetic signals heard as clicks and buzzes can be blocked by a patch of wire mesh (rather than foil) placed above the temporal lobe.