Got an important test coming up? Need a boost in brainpower?
Then consider chewing on gum for 5 minutes before the test.
This is what researchers recommend in a journal article called Cognitive advantages of chewing gum. Now you see them, now you don’t. In this study, researchers from St Lawrence University conducted a series of gum chewing experiments. Students were split into different groups and were instructed to:
1) Chew gum for 5 minutes before taking a test;
2) Chew gum before and during taking a test; and
3) Not chew gum before or during the test (control group).
What did they find?
The researchers found that chewing gum for 5 minutes before the test gave students a boost in brainpower … but the benefits only lasted for 15-20 minutes.
But what if you kept chewing the gum during the test? Did that extend the benefits?
Unfortunately, it didn’t.
In fact, other studies have found chewing gum during a test can negatively impact on your performance. Instead of dedicating 100% of your brainpower to answering the test question, some of your brainpower is directed towards the act of chewing the gum. In short, chewing gum is distracting.
So if you’re going to chew gum, do it right. Do it for 5 minutes before the test and then spit it out.
Why does chewing gum improve your cognition?
Three main theories have been proposed for the cognitive enhancing benefits of gum chewing:
1. Chewing gum results in the enhanced delivery of glucose to the brain.
2. Chewing gum makes you feel more alert.
3. Chewing improves blood flow in the brain.
Does gum flavour matter?
Here’s what the researchers concluded in their discussion:
…there is evidence that some flavors lead to an amplification of cognitive effects, even in the absence of chewing …On the other hand, studies also reveal performance improvements after participants chew flavorless gumbase, suggesting that the presence of gum itself is sufficient to induce changes in cognitive functioning.
In case your wondering, the students in the St Lawrence gum chewing experiment chewed on Wrigley’s spearmint flavoured sugar-free gum and doublemint chewing gum.
My advice would be to choose a chewing gum flavour that you like. After all, if you don’t like it and it leaves a terrible taste in your mouth, this is likely to distract you in the test.
A word of warning when choosing your gum
Most chewing gums contain a synthetic plastic (read more about it here). That’s like chewing on a gumboot or car tyre to get a short cognitive boost. It just isn’t worth it.
To be on the safe side, it’s best to purchase a natural plastic-free gum like Glee Gum.
Sugar content is also important to consider. Chewing on gums that contains sugar is like eating lollies. And the last thing you want to experience is a sugar crash during a test. Purchase sugar-free gums that are aspartame free.
Does it matter how fast you chew my gum?
Rate of chewing doesn’t seem to really matter. It’s the act of chewing that is most important. So set your own pace.
To sum up
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that chewing gum before a test will only deliver a short-lived boost in cognition. Chewing gum can never replace using effective study strategies or a good night’s sleep but it’s an extra evidence based tool we can add to our toolbox of strategies. Thank you, Science!