Gum-chewing is often touted as a way to help reduce anxiety in stressful situations. There are plenty of studies on the topic, 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 a bit better.
Since the cost of trying it out is so low, it’s worth experimenting for yourself, and checking whether this trick works for you. Furthermore, even if chewing gum doesn’t help by itself, the placebo effect could be beneficial. Essentially, if you believe that the gum will help you be calmer and more alert, there’s a good chance that it will. Interestingly, you can often benefit from this effect, even if you know it’s a placebo.
Summary and conclusions
- Chewing gum might have some short-term cognitive benefits, in terms of increasing alertness and improving reaction times.
- Chewing gum may also help reduce long-term and chronic stress.
- It’s worth testing this on yourself, since the cost of trying is low.
- You may also benefit from the placebo effect (yes, even if you’re aware of it).