A 2011 studypublished in the journal Appetitetested the effects of chewing
gum—either sugar-free or sugar-added—on 159 undergraduate students. Half
chomped gum before or throughout taking a battery of difficult mental tests,
such as reciting lists of random numbers backwards or solving logic puzzles,
and the other half (the control group) didn’t.
Those who chewed gum five minutes
before the tests significantly outperformed non-chewers on five out of six of
the tests, researchers from St. Lawrence University found. However, the
benefits only lasted for the first 15 to 20 minutes of the test and chewing
during the tests was not helpful, probably because it distracted the students.
The sugar content of the gum had no impact on the test performance.
Teachers who ban gum in class may want
to rethink their rules after checking out the intriguing results of a study
at Baylor College of Medicine, involving 8th graders at a charter school.
The researchers found that students
who chewed gum during math tests—and while doing their math homework—had a 3
percent rise in standardized math scores and higher final grades, compared to
non-chompers. “Chewing gum is an easy tool students can use for an academic
edge,” said Craig Johnson, PhD, the lead study researcher.
Revving Up Recall
gum also improves memory, a British review of earlier
studies found. However, the reasons for
this aren’t entirely clear.
One theory is that the physical act
of chewing increases blood flow to the brain, a phenomenon the St. Lawrence
researchers call “mastication-induced arousal.” They speculate that munching
perks up attention but, since the effect is temporary, chewing gum may be most
helpful before tackling the toughest questions on a test.
Study participants were randomly
divided into three groups—with one-third of participants chewing gum,
one-third “sham chewing” (making chewing motions with no actual gum in their
mouth) and the rest not chewing—as they underwent a pupillographic sleepiness
test (measuring the diameter of the eye’s pupils for 11 minutes while the
person sits in a darkened room).
The researchers theorize that the
higher alertness of the gum chewers may be due to the arousing effects of the
mint flavor or increased brain activity during chewing.
In a quirky study at Cardiff
University in the UK, 133 volunteers were given demanding mental tests with
and without chewing gum of randomly assigned fruit or mint flavors. To make the
mental tests even more challenging, half the volunteers were forced to listen
to a stress-inducing, 75-decibel noise (equivalent to standing next to a lawn
mover) while trying to concentrate on the tests. The rest were tested in a
Volunteers rated their mood before
and after the testing sessions and had their heart rate monitored. Their levels
of cortisol (a stress hormone that’s also a good measure of alertness) were
also checked using saliva samples.
The researchers found that chewing
gum was linked to greater alertness, faster reaction times on the tests, with
performance actually improving as the task became harder, and enhanced
attention. And here’s something else to chew on: those who munched gum were
also in a better mood.