Chewing gum really does speed up thinking and alertness
A new study has found scientific evidence to prove a long-derided advertising slogan which claimed that chewing gum speeds up reactions and increases alertness.
Researchers from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan, and other centers, found 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, the Independent reported.
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.
Volunteers were tested 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,” said the researchers.
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.
The finding is being reported in the journal Brain and Cognition.