Chris Blattman

My nomination for the Ignobel Prize: Gum chewing makes you smarter

159 students were given a battery of demanding cognitive tasks, such as repeating random numbers backward and solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum (sugar-free and sugar-added) while the other half were given nothing.

Those randomly assigned to the gum-chewing condition significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests… The sugar content of the gum had no effect on test performance.

While previous studies achieved similar results — chewing gum is often a better test aid than caffeine — this latest research investigated the time course of the gum advantage. It turns out to be rather short lived, as gum chewers only showed an increase in performance during the first 20 minutes of testing. After that, they performed identically to non-chewers.

Article here. Mechanism apparently unknown.

3 Responses

  1. The other day I was eating my dinner, pacing the room, and working out how I was about to teach a particular point to my upcoming class. A confused student asked if I shouldn’t be sitting while I ate. I responded that I think better while I walk and the eating didn’t distract me. He was rather amazed at the ability to do more than one thing at a time. Maybe chewing my dinner helped too.

  2. I wonder if it is simply the activation of the facial muscles typically associated with concentration. Previous research, which Dan Kahneman summarizes in his great new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, has found that frowning activates cognitive activity and reduces our reliance on intuition. (For those interested, “Frowning, as we have seen, generally increases the vigilance of System 2 and reduces both overconfidence and the reliance on intuition” – p. 152) The time duration is interesting, however, and I wonder if similar findings could be tested with regard to frowning as well.

  3. Mechanism? Chewing of gum increases blood flow to brain as the muscles in the neck/jaw flex/contract/whatever the major arteries in the neck?

    Not that I have the first clue what I’m talking about here but throught I’d throw out the guess.

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