Can’t Focus Or Concentrate? Chew Some Gum!

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online
There´s a lot about chewing gum and the act of chewing gum to wonder about. Chew as we might, we never break it down, never digest it, and never receive any nutritional value from it. In many ways, it can be seen as an exercise in futility or a transformation from human to bovine.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology has found some good could come from chewing gum.
According to these researchers, chewing gum may aid in concentration and overall focus. A small group of 40 volunteers were able to better remember sequences when they were chewing gum than those who were not masticating. Though chewing gum may effect concentration and focus, there are those who believe gnashing on the sticky stuff could impair the chewer´s ability to form new kinds of memory.
Last month, researchers from Cardiff University set out to determine what effects, if any, chewing had on focus and memory retention. These researchers recruited 40 volunteers and split them evenly into two groups. Each group was then asked to complete a thirty minute auditory Bakan-task, which involves listening to a sequence of numbers to be recalled later. One group was instructed to chew as they listened, while the other group was told to keep their mouths empty. The Cardiff researchers also asked these participants to rate their mood both before and after the test for extra data.
After the volunteers had been subjected to 30 minutes of numerical sequences, the researchers then asked them to recall the numbers which they had just heard. The gum-chewing group was able to recall more of these numbers and even recall them more quickly than the group which was not allowed to chew gum. The researchers also noted the gum chewers´ performance increased over time as their reactions came quicker as the 30-minute test came to a close. A 2011 study found similar results as gum-chewing participants were better able to recall pictures they had seen during another 30-minute task.
The Cardiff researchers believe this improved performance could be due to an increase in oxygen to the brain. As we chew, we get the blood in our heads pumping and increase the amount of available oxygen to the part of the brain responsible for paying attention.
A group of Japanese researchers agree. They had their volunteers chew gum as they completed several tasks while being scanned by MRI. These scans showed the gum chewers had eight parts of their brain “light up” while they masticated and completed the tasks. These regions are often used when completing these tasks, but according to Dr. Duncan Banks, the director of the British Neuroscience Association, “Those areas seem to light up more when people chew gum,” he told Cara Lee of the Daily Mail Online.
Professor Andrew Smith teaches at the Cardiff University, but is not one of the authors of the new study. He explains gum´s benefits this way: “Chewing stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which stimulates part of the brain responsible for alertness. And we know that chewing increases heart rate, which in turn increases blood flow to the brain.”
Though Professor Smith claims previous research has shown gum chewers are more productive at work, he also suggests chewing gum could affect the way someone learns. “Many aspects of memory rely on using sub-vocal rehearsal (when you repeat words to yourself in your head) and it´s difficult to do that while chewing because it´s a competing activity – but this area needs more research.”

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