Does chewing gum make you smart?

Katherine - posted on 12/28/2010 ( 7 moms have responded )




To my surprise, informed opinions abound on this question. There have even been honest-to-goodness experiments – some more biased than others. One oft-quoted font of behavioral research, the Wrigley Science Institute (of Wrigley’s chewing gum fame), offers this:

“A non-scientific informal survey of the 591 students found that students who chewed [Wrigley’s] gum... during the exam reported a mean score of 90; students who chewed the whole pack of [Wrigley’s] gum before the exam reported a mean score of 86; while those who chewed no gum at all reported a mean score of 60.”

The Wrigley Institute seems to be suggesting that gum can turn your little underachiever into Harvard material. The report stated that “when we announced the findings of the informal survey, you could literally hear a gasp from the class.” One hopes that the A-students, with entire packs of gum in their mouths, did not choke.

Perhaps we should look beyond gasp-inducing surveys toward more objective research.

Annie, get your gum

One of the earliest reference to the smarts-inducing quality of gum comes from a 1940 report which stated:

“Chewing gum not only reduces general restlessness and muscular tension in unrelated bodily parts, but also causes more energy to be put into the activities of the main occupation” (Freeman, 1940).

The author was clearly suggesting that gum-chewing led to performance-enhancing relaxation. Unfortunately for gum proponents, Freeman found that foot-tapping was equally relaxing but cautioned that “if either chewing or tapping were engaged in too strenuously, no tension reduction would occur.” Take heed, kids.

A more recent study from the United Kingdom (Wilkinson et al., 2002) caused controversy in the international gum-chewing community by suggesting that gum improves memory. They noticed improved performance among gum chewers and hypothesized that gum enhances cognitive functioning either by increasing cerebral blood flow or by promoting the release of insulin, which could indirectly affect memory.

Other support for the Gum-Smart hypothesis includes:

* A 2004 study suggesting that chewing gum improves functions such as working memory and processing speed by delivering glucose to the bloodstream (Stevens, 2004).
* A 2005 study examining the relationship between cognitive functioning and performance-enhancing odors. Cinnamon-flavored gum (which delivered a cinnamon scent to the nose) reportedly improved participants’ attention, recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor response speed (Zoladz & Raudenbush, 2005).

A different argument, which can be used either for or against the Gum-Smart hypothesis, involves state-dependent learning: when you are tested on a task, you should try to replicate the conditions under which you learned that task. For example, if you chewed gum while studying for the bar exam, you should chew gum when you take the bar exam (Baker, et al., 2004). (We must factor out the possibility anyone chewing gum during the bar exam will be beaned with pencils and other objects, thus negating any cognitive gains realized by the chewing of gum.)

The gum control lobby

Naturally, the Gum-Smart hypothesis has its detractors. For example, some researchers have failed to reproduce the state-dependent learning effect (Miles & Johnson, 2007). And in a direct blow to the Gum-Smart hypothesis, Tucha et al. (2004) not only failed to reproduce improvements on cognitive function, but suggested that gum can actually have adverse effects on cognition:

“The results showed that the chewing of gum did not improve participants’ memory functions. Furthermore, chewing may differentially affect specific aspects of attention. While sustained attention was improved by the chewing of gum, alertness and flexibility were adversely affected by chewing. In conclusion, claims that the chewing of gum improves cognition should be viewed with caution.”

Those are harsh words, fellas.

Like any great debate, this one will rage on. Or maybe not. Perhaps the bounds of gum-enhanced cognition have been exhaustively explored.

Any cognitive improvements realized by chewing gum are probably negligible, at best, Jennifer. I wouldn’t rely too heavily on it. There are proven and reliable ways to enhance your mental functioning, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising. When you need to perform well on a test, nothing beats study and practice – despite what gum evangelists might lead you to believe.


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Jess - posted on 12/29/2010




Chewing gum might make you smarter but I don't think you look very smart while doing it ! There is nothing I hate more than being stuck in a confined space with someone who is chewing gum, especially if they are doing it with their mouth open or blowing bubbles !

I can't take people seriously when they have a hunk of gum rolling around in the there mouth.

[deleted account]

No wonder why I was able to graduate highschool!! lmao... j/k but I am a big gum chewer! Cant see how that would actually matter though.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 12/28/2010




When i am tense, I clench my jaw. If I have gum, it doesn't relax my jaw, but puts the tension to good use. I can see it as a relaxing tool to keep you focused, but I would be hard pressed to think it could make you smarter!

Charlie - posted on 12/28/2010




It isn't the actual gum but the action , we found that when we gave children in our own classroom a pen and paper or a hot chocolate to drink or use at the morning meeting they were able to concentrate for longer and recall more than if they were to simply sit and listen , we used this technique all the time and it works , I can see how it would work with gum .

But no , the gumn itself does not make you smarter .

Katherine - posted on 12/28/2010




I think it's an interesting article. They are doing studies with children on it and even have special receptacles for chewing gum.

LaCi - posted on 12/28/2010




I always chew gum during my exams, my classes too. Peppermint is peppy. Puts me in a good mood.

Jocelyn - posted on 12/28/2010




I can certianly see how it would help you concentrate. If you like to fidget (like me) then having something that you can do with your body (like chewing a piece of gum) that you don't have to think about, would help direct your extra "fidget" energy away from your concentration.

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