The Cognitive Benefits of Chewing Gum

Picture of chewing gum.

 

Research suggests that chewing gum could have some small but beneficial cognitive benefits. In the following article, you will learn about these benefits, and about how you can check whether gum chewing is beneficial for you.

 

The benefits of chewing gum

There is a large number of studies, which are well-summarized in a review of the effects of gum-chewing on cognitive aspects such as stress and alertness. The review found some useful and some conflicting results on the topic:

  • Research looking at short-term stress has shown a lack of significant effects of gum-chewing on self-reported stress and anxiety, and contradictory findings on its effect on cortisol levels (which serve as a hormonal stress indicator).
  • Research looking at long-term and chronic stress found that gum chewing may reduce self-reported stress.
  • Gum chewing was found to have a positive effect on subjective alertness. However, the effects on alertness biomarkers and cognitive performance were not consistent (meaning that people claimed they were more alert, but the researchers couldn’t always find physiological evidence for this).
  • Chewing gum was found to sometimes improve reaction time in response to auditory, but not visual stimuli.
  • The effects of gum chewing on memorization and recall are at the moment too inconsistent to paint a clear picture.

Overall, the review concludes that chewing gum may have some beneficial cognitive effects. These effects most likely consist of increasing short-term alertness and reaction times, while potentially also reducing long-term and chronic stress.

In the time since the review was originally published, new research has come out, which corroborates the findings on improvement in alertness and reaction times. This research includes a study on the effects of gum-chewing on cognitive processing speed, a study on the effects and after-effects of gum-chewing on vigilance, mood, and biological markers (heart rate and EEG), and a study on how gum-chewing affects cognitive performance, well-being, and associated psychology.

As such, while gum-chewing shouldn’t be treated as a magical solution to anxiety, it can be considered a small psychological trick, which can help you concentrate better, and potentially also alleviate some anxiety.

 

Testing whether gum chewing works for you

The greatest advantages of gum as a minor cognitive enhancer are that it is cheap to buy, easy to use, and safe to consume. Essentially, even though it generally won’t be as powerful as stronger substances, it offers a simple way to get an improvement in your performance.

Since the cost of trying it out is so low, it’s worth experimenting for yourself, and checking whether chewing gum works for you. Furthermore, even if chewing gum doesn’t help by itself, the placebo effect could be beneficial. Essentially, if you believe that chewing gum will help you be calmer and more alert, there’s a good chance that it will, even if you know that it’s just a placebo.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Research suggests that chewing gum can have some short-term cognitive benefits, particularly in terms of increasing your alertness and improving your reaction time.
  • Chewing gum could potentially also help reduce both short-term and long-term stress, though the research on this is still inconclusive, and is highly dependent on a variety of factors.
  • The main advantages of gum as a potential cognitive enhancer are that it is cheap, safe, and simple to use, compared to many other cognitive enhancers.
  • Since the cost of using it is so low, in terms of money and effort, it’s worth trying to use gum in relevant scenarios yourself, in order to check whether it works for you.
  • In some case, if you believe that chewing gum will help you, you might benefit from a placebo effect that leads to the benefits that you expects. This can happen even in cases where you’re aware of the placebo effect in advance.