Extra. 5. Trident. Orbit. We see these familiar brands lining the walls of check-out lines at stores like Target, Rite Aid and CVS. This multitude of brands and flavors compose the chewing gum industry, which rakes in billions of dollars annually in the U.S.
Many gum-chewers snag their favorite flavor of gum (according to Statista, the most popular is spearmint, as it should be) on their way out of Target simply because they enjoy the taste, but should we be using it for a larger purpose — say, to improve our academic performance? Some studies have indicated links between retaining information and chewing gum, leading to heightened performance on tests.
“Statistically significant differences were found in test performance between the chewing gum and nonchewing gum conditions on postlesson test performance (Experiments 1 and 2) and alertness (Experiment 2),” read a 2018 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology. “The findings of this current study demonstrate that chewing gum while studying realistic educational materials has a statistically reliable effect.”
Dr. Kristin Mauldin, associate professor of psychology and director of the sport and performance psychology, said multiple studies have supported this idea of gum-chewing as a way to enhance learning and attentiveness. She said the motion of chewing gum increases adrenaline and leads to more blood flow and increased glucose to neurons in the brain, boosting alertness.
“It’s kind of a general arousal that’s occurring when you chew gum,” Mauldin said. “It’s not unlike if you go out and do exercise — even just some very small amount like a walk — you’re going to be activating your sympathetic nervous system.”
Mauldin suggested that students can chew gum while learning new material in class and while taking tests to boost attentiveness and performance, especially since gum is inexpensive.
“It can give [students] a little bit of that edge,” Mauldin said. “The differences [in performance] weren’t huge, but they weren’t terrible in terms of increased display of intelligence scores or academic markers on general exams. That’s enough if you’re a student to be like, ‘Why not pop a piece of gum?’”
Kasinda Thompson, junior psychology major, views chewing gum as helpful for herself and other students, especially for those who struggle with staying still.
“It helps me focus when I am studying or listening to a lecture,” Thompson said. “[However], I think gum can be distracting for some other students and is messy.”
While many studies have concluded that there is a difference in performance across the board, there have been mixed results as to the type of learning and memory chewing gum can impact and as to the extent of that impact.
“The take-home from that is, why not?” Mauldin said. “If it’s not hard for you to do it, go for it. You have a piece of gum in your pocket and you think, ‘It kind of sounds good but I’m not sure and I’m in class,’ [you] should probably chew the gum. Is it enough to go out and buy gum? I don’t know — what are your grades like? If you’re an A student, probably not. If you’re on the curb there, you might want to get some gum.”
For those who want to take advantage of the gum-chewing learning boost but do not have any on hand, Mauldin said creating similar movements with the mouth can lead to the same stimulation.
“So if you forgot your chewing gum, you can sit there and kind of pretend like you’re chewing gum,” Mauldin said. “It would probably have a very similar effect.”