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Man has been chewing gum and other materials for a very long time, going back even to the ancient Greeks. It seems we simply like the habit of putting something into our mouths that isn’t a food and just chewing on it.

But I do wish Thomas Adams had kept his chicle to himself and just continued to try and use it to make bicycle tires.

I loathe chewing gum and hate seeing people chewing the stuff in public.
It always reminds me of cows chewing on their cud and I prefer to differentiate myself from bovines. But that’s just my opinion and clearly I am in the minority judging by the sheer quantity of gum that is sold around the world on an annual basis.

But is there any advantage to the brain in chewing?
There are probably countless generations of school kids who would say yes, but more than getting away with chewing something in class, which isn’t allowed and leaving the tell-tale remnants on the underside of desks, does chewing help us to think better?

One study from Cardiff (clearly a chewing-gum hub) has indicated that yes chewing gum does help us to focus on task that require continuous monitoring over a longer period of time.

So what does that mean?

In the study the researchers split 38 people into two groups. One group were asked to chew gum during the task. Both were required to listen to a 30-minute audio where they had to listen to a list of numbers being read out in a random manner. Not a very exciting task!
The participants were scored on their level of accuracy and speed in detecting a sequence of odd-even-odd numbers such as 7-2-1 and were evaluated for their mood before and after performing the task.

What was found was that although the non-gum chewers performed slightly better at the beginning of the task, it was the gum chewers that had the quicker reaction times and were more accurate overall, especially towards the end of the 30 minutes.

So gum chewing wins the day in helping us to concentrate better.

Will this change my opinion on gum chewing? No. But I guess it’s going to make the argument for not chewing, that much harder to sustain.

Kate Morgan, Andrew J. Johnson and Christopher Miles. Chewing gum moderates the vigilance decrement. British Journal of Psychology, 8 MAR 2013 DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12025

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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