Gum’s the word

There are two types of people in the world: those who chew gum, and those who don’t.
Image: Jóhann Heiðar Árnason/Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Jóhann Heiðar Árnason/Wikimedia Commons.

There are two types of people in the world: those who chew gum, and those who don’t. Those who do, say it helps them to concentrate; those who don’t, concentrate on denigrating this habit as unpleasant.

Chewing gum was originally made of chicle derived from trees of the Manilkara genus in the Sapotaceae, but has now been largely replaced by synthetic ‘gum base’. Just as other plant-derived substances – illegal or otherwise – have been credited with ‘fuelling creativity’, etc, so devotees of chewing gum have extolled its virtues. In particular they claim it aids concentration. Well, that view is supported by the work of Kate Morgan et al., who demonstrate that chewing gum ‘moderates the vigilance decrement’ – i.e. chicle-chompers ‘focused and remembered number sequences better than non-gum chewers’ – in an auditory test.

Furthermore, Lara Tucha and William Simpson showed that in visual tests, beneficial effects on sustained attention were observed at later stages (although chewing – spearmint-flavoured, sugar-free – gum had detrimental effects on sustained attention in earlier stages of the task…). ‘Gum-deniers’, however, will probably point to Michail Kozlov et al.’s study that chewing flavourless gum can interfere with short-term memory. So, to chew, or not to chew, that is the question. And certainly one to ruminate on – in both senses of the word!