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Chewing Gum May Help You Remember That Last Bit of Information Before an Exam

What is your favorite flavor of gum? Mint? Bubblegum? Tropical Twist? None? Turns out, chewing gum may have more effects than simply making your breath smell good, or giving you something to do when bored. In fact, some studies show chewing gum can actually increase feelings of relaxation, increase attention, lower stress levels, and improve memory. Now, this is not to say that simply chewing gum while studying will get you an automatic 100% on an exam. But it may help enough to bump your grade up and boost your confidence!

Chewing gum is something a lot of researchers have recently realized might help students out, especially those who are in a cram session! Studies have been conducted to see whether chewing gum actually has an effect on recalling information and keeping us awake. In 2018, authors Ginns, Kim, and Zervos looked into seeing if chewing gum affected alertness and test performance. Participants were split up into two groups: one that chewed gum while studying and another group that studied without gum. It was found that chewing gum did in fact impact learning for the better – people who chewed gum and studied performed better on an exam given after the fact and felt much more alert and awake during the exam than the non-chewing gum group.

While portrayed in this image as someone not paying attention in class, chewing gum can actually increase alertness and attention!

This could be for a number of reasons – chewing gum increases heart rate and cerebral blood flow, bringing more blood to the brain, and causing us to “wake up”. If we learn new information while chewing gum and then chew gum in the future, it can simulate how we felt while studying and cause us to recall information better, as well as wake us up a bit. In 2015, researchers Allen and Smith completed a study that showed that alertness was higher in gum chewing participants than in the control group. By being more alert, we have more of our brain available to pay attention to the material we are trying to learn. In this same study, it was found that for a single working day, participants that chewed gum had lower stress and fatigue. With fewer feelings of tiredness and more feelings of alertness, think about how much more stimuli we can interpret and how much more material we can learn before the big test!

Chewing gum may help with other aspects of studying. Many people find it hard to focus while studying information – they lose track of what they were supposed to be looking at or get distracted by their phones or friends. As said commonly in psychology, attention is a limited resource! This means we can only pay attention to oh so much – there is too much going on in the world for us to understand it all. By making us stay alert and focused, we can pay attention to our study materials more easily. 

Furthermore, when thinking about what can inhibit studying and exam performance, stress is a primary contributor. Pretty much every college student has been stressed at one point in their life (and if not, I would love to know how you do it!). Chewing gum may have an effect on this factor as well. In 2012, researchers Smith and Woods looked into how gum can affect stress in college-aged students over a two-week period. Lucky for us gum lovers, they found that with more gum chewed, participants reported less stress! With lower stress levels and higher attention, gum is definitely more helpful than we thought.

Many students can relate to getting caught chewing gum in class. But next time your teacher yells at you, tell them it’s your newest study tool!

Context reinstatement is an important concept that helps with recall of information. For example, say you walk into Room A and think to yourself, I need to go get a pencil from Room B. So, you walk into Room B, but immediately forget what you came into Room B for. You then walk back into Room A and immediately remember that you simply had to go get a pencil from Room B. So why did you not remember what you had to get in Room B but as soon as we go back to where our original thought occurred, you have no trouble remembering? This is because our brain has so much information and processes going on that sometimes we need to help ourselves out a bit. By going back to the room where we thought about the pencil, we can jog our memory by giving ourselves context cues.

Back in terms of studying and gum, we may be able to mirror this effect while studying and in an exam. Encoding specificity is most important for new information, or for information that we have been struggling to learn but just don’t have the time to commit the information into long-term memory. This is where gum would tie in – say we chew mint gum while learning about how to use a specific formula for calculus. The next day, in your exam, pop some mint gum in your mouth and it should help to remember what you studied the night before. This is because our brain now associates mint with studying this specific formula for calculus, so when we need to recall in the exam it helps us retrieve the link.

So, if we chew gum while studying specific material on a test, and then chew the same flavor gum while actually taking the test, we are actually more likely to remember it! Chewing gum makes jumping back to the information we learned a little bit easier. In 2002, Wilkinson, Scholey, and Wesnes actually looked into word recall, to see if chewing gum makes people remember words better. It was found that there was a better result in both immediate and delayed word recall for participants that chewed gum. So, good news! Simply chewing gum can help us remember items with more ease.

See, gum really can help you remember calculus!

However, this is not the best method to base your academic success on! Cognitive psychologists have actually done a lot of research regarding study techniques and have determined some of the best ways to successfully prepare for an exam. Examples of this include distributed practice, which means breaking up your studying into bits and pieces over time, and retrieval practice, which is essentially quizzing yourself with information to mimic the recall process that occurs during an exam. These strategies are more effective and useful for long-term information, especially for creating context-independent and cue-dependent information (information that you don’t need context clues or specific cues to remember). College is all about creating long-term, stable knowledge of topics, so we need to make sure that we are actually encoding and storing the information for later use! Chewing gum should really only be used on rare occasions when you’ve run out of time or can’t learn a specific section of material, and for pretty short-term memory recall. After all, if you used this for every exam you would eventually run out of gum flavors to link information to!

Overall, while I’ve bounced around a bit, the main conclusion is that chewing gum may be one of the easiest ways to improve one’s exam experience. Chewing gum may help us remember that piece of information you’ve been struggling with, and it may help us stay more alert and awake so we can take in more information. As I’ve said before, attention is a limited resource, so any help our brains can get is super appreciated. So next time your mom yells at you for chewing your gum obnoxiously at the kitchen table while studying calculus, you can tell her that I sent you and it will help you perform well on your next exam! 

References

Allen, A. P., & Smith, A. P. (2015). Chewing gum: cognitive performance, mood, well-being, and associated physiology. BioMed research international, 2015, 654806. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/654806

Gajilan, A. (n.d.). Chew on this: Gum may be food for body, mind. CNN. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/22/chewing.gum.benefits/.

Ginns, P., Kim, T., & Zervos, E. (2019). Chewing gum while studying: Effects on alertness and test performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(2), 214–224. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.3467

Henican, E. (2011). Chewing Gum Helps Students With Math. Henican. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://henican.com/chewing-gum-helps-students-with-math/.

Patrick. (n.d.). When The Teacher Sees You Chewing Gum meme. Funvizeo. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://funvizeo.com/meme/when-the-teacher-sees-you-chewing-gum-meme-94ad2634d0f4cb4d.

Smith, A. P., & Woods, M. (2012). Effects of chewing gum on the stress and work of university students. Appetite, 58(3), 1037–1040. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.02.054

Wilkinson, L., Scholey, A., & Wesnes, K. (2002). Chewing gum selectively improves aspects of memory in healthy volunteers. Appetite, 38(3), 235–236. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.2002.0473

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