The March/April 2019 issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology demonstrates the way chewing gum enhances certain cognitive functions. A review of the literature contained within reveals more correlative factors than causal ones, to be clear, but the research does not stand alone. The participants reviewed in studies spanning the course of over four decades all expressed lower levels of stress while chewing gum, which in turn yielded boosts to alertness, focus, sustained attention and the ability to retain information.

The surprising density of the findings

The most recent study, which premiered this year,  begins by citing several studies conducted in the past. Several of which observed the effect chewing gum has on mood and memory in particular. I was surprised to learn how extensive research on this topic was. Utilizing various methods of determining the affect chewing gum has on RAS, memory and overall test performance, research has yet to single out precise reasoning, even if many of the results point to the same broad conclusions.

A study that was published in 1974, revealed: “Significantly higher alertness, contentedness and calmness scores following gum chewing.” An empirical study from 2002, discovered that participants that chewed gum performed better on long-term and short-term memory tests, derived from immediate and delayed recall of words.  For a time these findings seemed to revolve around psychological arousal.

Arousal, in psychology, refers to the state of being attentive and alert. These functions are dictated by the reticular activating system or RAS for short. When this system is impaired or slows down, we typically feel drowsy and lethargic. When this system is enhanced we are sharp and uniquely equipped to respond to things in our environment. Here we have a modest collection of hypothesis meant to identify the exact role chewing gum plays in learning ability.

Chew on this

Recently experiments employed college students and observed these factor by way of the preparation and performance of psychology and mathematical exams.

If chewing gum, determines the effectiveness of RAS, then the gum chewing group would be more alert while obtaining information. If chewing gum reduces stress, or plays some yet undiscovered role, the gum chewing participants might not express specific boosts to alertness but they would outperform the non-chewers regardless. Over the course of the four experiments. the results of the first two (which used psychology exams)  intimated the latter conjecture.

The experiment involving 40 college students revealed no significant spike in alertness in students that were shown to be alert prior to the introduction of the gum condition. Although the gum chewers did outperform the non-chewers on the multiple choice psychology exam portion of the experiment.

The next series of two experiments, this time deploying a math test as opposed to a psychology test, identified an alertness edge in students that chewed gum over those that did not, in addition to reaffirming the performance hypothesis demonstrated in the first two experiments.

In other words, chew gum.

Originally Published on The Ladders.

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