Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: The Quirky Brain: Chewing gum and memory

Many people chew gum to relieve stress, and some believe that it helps them to concentrate. Since 2000, a small group of neuroscience researchers has engaged in a spirited debate about whether chewing gum might improve attention, memory, and other aspects of cognition.

Since 2002, when English researchers published a paper on the topic, a dozen studies have followed on the topic of gum chewing and cognition. The evidence is not sufficient to support the claim that chewing gum improves working memory (information needed temporarily, such as phone numbers) or episodic memory (initial and delayed recall of information such as words). Further muddying the waters, some of the research was funded by companies that sell gum and stand to profit from pro-gum findings.

One reaction to this line of research might be laughter. In fact, one of our editorial board members suggested we present this summary "gum in cheek." What the research does do is remind us that learning and memory are brain-based activities that are affected by external factors.

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