Chances are at some point during your school years, your teacher told you to spit out your bubble gum because it’s noisy, rude or because constructing Hubba Bubba stalactites on the underside of your desk was just plain gross. But could it be that chewing gum could’ve actually helped you in school? A 2002 study conducted at the University of Northumbria in England suggested that, perhaps due to increased flow of oxygen to the brain, chewing gum while taking tests increases both long and short-term memory — specifically when it comes to remembering words and spatial orientation.
A 2011 follow-up study conducted at St. Lawrence University in New York suggested that chewing gum (which increases blood flow to the brain) improves your memory for only a 15 to 20-minute window — and only after chewing ceases. Participants who chewed gum for five minutes and then spat it out immediately before a test achieved higher scores that both those who didn’t chew at all and those who chewed gum throughout the test. Contradicting the 2002 study, those who kept chewing throughout the test fared no better than those who didn’t chew anything, a result that researchers attributed to the brain being distracted by the chewing motion.
Then, the following year, a study from Cardiff University in Wales found that chewing gum actually impaired short-term memory, with participants who chewed throughout a test scoring lower than others. Researchers, however, left open the possibility that flavored gum might help memory more than the flavorless kind. (Why they decided to test only flavorless gum when pretty much everybody chews flavored gum is probably the biggest question left unanswered.)
Now, just a few weeks ago, a study from Japan’s Chiba University found that chewing gum stimulates the brain to the point that it increases physical reaction times, which may not help you in a test — unless it’s in Phys Ed or in a shiv-filled jail yard initiation.
The moral? Walking and chewing gum at the same time might actually be harder than publicized. That, and researchers always end up contradicting themselves, so you should do whatever the heck you want.
(Sources: New Scientist, LiveScience, Chicago Tribune, Daily Mail)