A majority of high schools ban students from chewing gum to avoid the possibility of sticky desks and chairs. However, by trying to maintain clean classrooms, the schools may be failing to realize the possible benefits of chewing gum.
Does chewing gum while taking a test actually increase concentration?
According to Kate Morgan’s study, chewing gum may actually be beneficial to students’ concentration, alertness, and memory.
Her study at Cardiff University used 38 participants. The participants in the experiment completed 30 minute audio tasks in which they listened to a list of numbers that were read out in random and then were asked to detect number sequences. The results of the study showed that experimental group of participants, the ones who chewed the gum, had quicker reaction times and higher accuracy levels than the participants who did not chew gum (control group). The results also showed that participants who did not chew gum performed better at the beginning, but worse at the end. Morgan believed that this result showed that chewing gum helps people focus on tasks that need continuous monitoring over a longer period of time.
But does it depend on the gum type?
Psychologists at St. Lawrence University performed an experiment to see whether or not the type of gum had any effect on the concentration levels. 159 students were tested on cognitive tasks and half of the participants chewed gum (both sugar-free and sugar-added) and half of the participants did not chew anything. The researchers found that those who were randomly assigned to chew gum outperformed the control group. The chewing-gum group also remembered 25 to 50% more than the control group. The researchers also noticed that the performance difference was the largest and the effect of the chewing gum was the strongest when the participants had been chewing gum for 15 to 20. As for the sugar content of the gum, it had no effect on the results of the tests.
Although the scientists are not sure why chewing gum improves attention, many have hypothesized that it may be due to the increased heart rate and blood flow during gum chewing. Since gum increases the flow of oxygen to parts of the brain in charge of attention, it may make people more alert and improve reflexes. Other researchers say it is due to “mastication-induced arousal”, which means that the act of chewing keeps people fully focused on a task.
Even though the studies still cannot control for third variables such as personal intelligence, the takeaway from whether or not chewing gum increases concentration is that you should chew gum. However, since the gum’s effects are not long lasting, save the gum for the hardest questions!