Want a Mental Boost? Try Chewing Gum
We all chew gum from time to time, whether to keep our breath fresh or simply to have something to do when we are bored or stressed. But what makes us enjoy this odd habit so much? There is no nutritional value to it, your teachers forbid it in school and your employees abhor it in the workplace.
Some people have even had concerns that chewing gum excessively may cause stomach ulcers due to the fact that your stomach prepares itself to receive food, but never gets any (this has not been proven). However, scientists have finally discovered one very significant benefit to chewing gum that just may cause your teachers and employers to rethink their stance on the matter.
The next time your brain is feeling a bit sluggish during those last few hours at work, try chewing a piece of gum instead of topping up your tenth cup of coffee. Although this may not sound like a very sound solution, research has shown that chewing gum can help give your brain a boost by improving your memory and stimulating your cognitive skills.
A recent study carried out by a group of psychologists at the St. Lawrence University found that difficult tasks became easier when the subjects would chew gum. The researchers studied a group of 159 volunteers who were asked to complete various tasks, such as repeating words and numbers backwards and solving complex logic puzzles.
The volunteers were divided into two groups, and each group completed the same tasks. The only difference was that one group was chewing gum, while the other was not. The volunteers that chewed gum while working on these tasks scored much higher on all the tests, except for the one on verbal fluency. The gum apparently had no influence on this one.
The only setback with chewing gum is that its effects apparently only last for about 20 minutes. The volunteers who chewed gum did outperform the other group, but this effect only lasted for the first part of the test, after which they performed identically to the volunteers who chewed nothing.
So perhaps if you are planning to chew gum during your test, you should save it for the hardest parts. Or, if you want to keep sharp at work, chew it at the end of the day; after all, those last few minutes are always the hardest to get through.
Another study, carried out at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle upon Tyne, found that chewing gum helps people retain information better and can improve memory skills by up to 35%. The researchers used three groups of volunteers, one group chewed gum, the other pretended to chew by simply going through the motions of chewing, and the other group chewed nothing.
All three groups completed the same 25-minute test, which focused on things involving short-term memory, such as recalling pictures and numbers. The group that chewed gum performed better than both other groups, while the group that had only pretended to chew performed slightly better than the group that chewed nothing.
The researchers are not entirely sure why chewing gum has this effect on the brain, although there are a number of theories. One theory is that chewing gum elevates the heart rate slightly, which means that the brain receives more oxygen.
Another theory is that chewing causes insulin to be produced in order to aid digestion, and insulin is also thought to stimulate the part of the brain that recalls things and retains information.
Recently, scientists at the University of Coventry discovered that chewing mint flavored gum appeared to drive away feelings of drowsiness. The study assessed volunteers by using a Pupillographic Sleepiness Test, which works by measuring the oscillations of the pupils.
This makes gum a better stimulant than coffee, because you get the feelings of alertness without the adverse side effects or caffeine crash later. So make sure you stock up on mint flavored chewing gum for your next long-distance drive.
A similar study showed that chewing gum may also work to reduce feelings of stress, or at least help people to cope when they find themselves in stressful situations. How exactly it works is not known, but it could simply be due to the fact that the chewing motion gives your brain something else to focus on other than the stressful situation you are in.
The researcher, from Cardiff University, had a group of volunteers perform a series of cognitive tests. Of course, one group was given chewing gum and the other was not.
However, the group that chewed gum was asked to perform the tests in a room where a loud screeching noise was turned on. The group without the chewing gum was allowed to perform the test in a peaceful and noise-free room.
Despite the fact that the group chewing gum had been subjected to a stressful and loud environment while taking the test, they still outperformed the group without chewing gum. They seemed more attentive, had faster reaction times. Aside from this, they were also in better spirits than the group that had performed the test in a quiet environment.
With all this good news about chewing gum, why would you ever want to work or study without it again? Unlike coffee, it doesn’t require any preparation, it is low calorie and it is not addictive (as far as we know).
If you are still feeling a bit skeptical about the benefits of chewing gum, just remember that you have nothing to lose by trying it. In the worst case scenario, even if it doesn’t boost your brain power, you will still have fresh breath. Just don’t get too carried away, as gum can have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts.
On the other hand, if you don’t feel like chewing gum or don’t have any handy, just go through the motions of chewing to boost your performance.
It may not work as well, but it’s worth a try if you are in a tight spot with an exam or difficult situation at work.
Image by katybate