Gum Helps Academic Achievement
The rules at school may soon change regarding gum chewing, if teachers and administrators pay attention to a new study from the Baylor College of Medicine. Researchers found that chewing gum actually improved math scores for eighth grade students.
This interesting — and somewhat surprising — finding comes on the heels of previous studies showing that chewing gum can decrease stress and anxiety. Researchers wanted to see if chewing gum also improved test scores in mathematics, chosen because they assumed it has an “anxiety component,” explained study author Craig Johnston, PhD.
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON
In the recent study, 108 teens were given a standard achievement test and math sections of a test known as the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). They were then randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was instructed to chew gum every day through math class (and only math class). They were also told to chew gum at home while studying or doing homework of any kind. The second group did not chew gum in their math class and nothing about gum was mentioned to them.
At the end of the semester (14 weeks), researchers once again measured the standard general achievement test and TAKS scores of the students, comparing the scores of the two groups. While there were no statistical differences on the general achievement test, there were significant differences on both the math components of the TAKS test as well as on the students’ actual math grades. While both groups improved their scores in math, as you’d hope after a semester’s worth of instruction, the improvement was statistically greater in the gum-chewing group. In addition, the teachers in the study reported that the gum-chewers took fewer breaks, seemed to have longer attention spans and were quieter longer.
A previous study in the United Kingdom showed that the act of chewing gum improved both short- and long-term memory, with chewers scoring 24% higher than non-chewers on tests of immediate word recall and 36% better on tests of delayed word recall. A Japanese study investigated brain activity while chewing and found the section of the brain called the fronto-parietal network is activated, which is thought to be associated with higher cognitive information processing.
Dr. Johnston adds that “previous studies have shown that chewing gum decreases stress and improves blood flow to the brain.”
One sticky point — the recent study was funded by Wrigley, which undoubtedly hopes to sell more gum by pointing out possible benefits. The average American chews about 170 to 182 sticks of gum annually and you can choose sugarless gum to minimize dental harm, though be careful if your stomach is sensitive to the sugar alcohols used as sweeteners. It’s inexpensive, too. There are worse habits, I’d say.