My high school had some pretty strict rules, one of them pertaining to gum. We were never allowed to chew gum in class and if we were caught chewing gum teachers would call us out on it. If you were constantly getting caught, then you might even be given a detention. I never understood though why the rule was so strictly applied. Yes, gum is a choking hazard and some people can be irresponsible as to how they dispose of their gum, but there are benefits to chewing gum! Chewing gum might not be the best for your dental health, but I’ve always heard that gum helps focusing. If that’s true, then why is such a helpful thing turned down in many schools?
There have been claims that chewing gum during class/tests leads to better academic performance. That being said, we have four possible situations:
- Chewing gum directly increases your academic performance (direct causation).
- Increasing your academic performance causes you to chew gum (reverse causation).
- There is a third variable that’s causing you to chew gum in class and increase your academic performance.
- The correlation between gum chewing and increased academic performance is due to chance alone.
According to the article, Chew on this: Gum may be good for body, mind, a study was conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine. Researchers selected 108 8th graders at a Houston school. From there, the researchers took the 108 students are randomly allocated them into two groups. For the next 14 weeks, the students in the experimental group would chew gum during tests and while doing homework. On the other hand though, the control group would continue on with their studies, minus the gum of course (Gajilan 2009). Note that allocating the students was not random at first, but when they were split into groups, that process was totally random. In this experiment, we can see that the null hypothesis is that chewing gum has no effect on a student’s performance in school. According to the CNN writer of the article, Gajilan states that the results were quite shocking. The researchers found that the students who chewed gum did 3% better on their math tests than those who didn’t. They also had better final grades as well (Gajilan 2009). Going off what we learned in class, 3% is less than 5% so we can conclude that something is truly going on. That being said, we can reject the null hypothesis that gum chewing doesn’t cause an increase in academic performance. Although reverse causation and confounding variables are unlikely, there is still a chance they can have an effect. We also must take into consideration that some students are just naturally smarter. It’s extremely hard to measure someone’s intelligence, so we wouldn’t be able to know definitely if it was the gum alone that gave those students a slight edge over the control group.
Another study was conducted in 2009 that had to do with the correlation between chewing gum and one’s academic performance according to Marc Abrahams, writer of the article Does chewing gum improve our mind and our productivity? According to the article, Uwe Tänzer and two friends conducted a study with 8 and 9 year olds through the University of Oldenburg. They randomly allocated the students into two groups, testing their concentration by giving one group gum to chew and none to the other group. The other group is considered the control group of the experiment. The one’s who chewed the gum chewed Wrigley’s Extra Fruit sugar-free gum. After conducting the 16-minute experiment, the researchers found that the students who chewed gum did much better with concentrating (Marc 2014). I still think that more studies need to be conducted to make any conclusions.
In a more recent study, another experiment was conducted at St. Lawrence University according to Livescience’s article Gum-Chewing Improves Test Performance, Study Suggests. In the 2011 study mentioned in the article, 224 students were selected to participate in the study. They were then randomly allocated into three groups. One group was advised to chew gum before and during the tests, another was advised to chew before and the third did not chew gum at all. The third group is considered our control group. Researchers found some pretty surprising results. They found that a student’s performance did increase when chewing gum before the test, but only for a certain time. The effect only lasted for about the first 20 minutes. After that the students in the second group (chewing beforehand) performed as well as the two other groups. How much better the second group performed in those first 20 minutes was not significantly higher than the two other groups though (Welsh 2011). That being said, the small difference makes it harder to say that gum chewing plays a significant role in increasing academic performance in students. This is why more studies are necessary in order to collect more data.
According to Jennifer Welsh’s article Gum-Chewing Improves Test Performance, Study Suggests, the researchers in the St. Lawrence University study have a theory for why chewing gum only had an effect for a short period of time. Researchers at the school believe to claim that chewing stimulates the brain by pumping more blood to the heart. That stimulation gets your heart rate pumping. All that but the researchers did not see any improvement in the students who chewed before and during the test. The article mentions that the researchers actually believe this stimulation took the focus away from the task at hand: taking the test. That being said, any effect of chewing gum before, did not show in the grades because those students in the first group were continuing to ”distract” their brains with the continual chewing (Welsh 2011). I think that based off of just this study alone, I would still choose to chew gum beforehand. The cost of chewing the gum beforehand is very small and although the benefits don’t last extremely long, it’s better than nothing!
Take home message: From this research, I would conclude that although many studies have shown some improvement in grades when chewing gum, the causation is not definite. There needs to be more studies done in the future to make any solid assumptions about whether the correlation between the two is causal. If I were to research more into this topic though, I would want to know whether the type of gum or flavor has any more of an effect on one’s academic performance. In the end though, I’d say that it wouldn’t hurt to chew some gum before a test, even if the benefits are minimal, it’s still better than no benefits at all!