Want to think quickly? Then chew it over

Gum really does speed up reactions and help alertness, says study

Scientific evidence has been produced to confirm a long-derided advertising slogan which claimed that chewing gum speeds up thinking and alertness. Newly published research shows that reaction times are up to 10 per cent faster while chewing gum, and that as many as eight different areas of the brain are affected.

One theory is that chewing increases arousal and leads to temporary improvements in blood flow to the brain, which may help to explain its widespread use among successful football managers, most notably Alex Ferguson.

A new study, being reported in the journal Brain and Cognition, says volunteers carried out tests while chewing or not chewing gum. The gum used was flavourless to avoid distractions. The brains of the men and women were also scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see which areas were active.

The 30-minute tests involved volunteers pressing a button with their right or left thumb according to the direction of an arrow on a screen in front of them. One test was more complicated than the other. During both tests, alertness and reaction times were measured.

Results show that alertness and reaction times improved while chewing gum. Men and women who were not chewing took 545 milliseconds to react, compared with 493 milliseconds among the chewers. The scan results show that the brain regions most active during chewing were those involved with movement and attention.

"Our results suggest that chewing induced an increase in the arousal level and alertness in addition to an effect on motor control and, as a consequence, these effects could lead to improvements in cognitive performance," say the researchers from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan, and other centres.

Just how chewing could have such a profound effect is not clear, but there are theories. In one small experiment, chewing a piece of gum for 20 minutes led to an increased heart rate, and one suggestion is that this forces more oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Another is that chewing leads to the production of higher levels of insulin, which stimulates areas of the brain concerned with memory and alertness.

Professor Andy Smith of Cardiff University, a leading health-related behavioural specialist who has investigated chewing gum and behaviour, said: "It is an interesting study. The improvement in reaction time they found is highly significant. It may be that the more complicated the task, the greater the effect on reaction times. We don't really know how chewing could have such effects. Is it simply the stress-relieving effect of the rhythmic action of chewing, like chanting or a squeeze ball, or is something more fundamental going on?

"The effects of chewing on reaction time are profound. Perhaps football managers arrived at the idea of chewing gum by accident, but they seem to be on the right track."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot