Psychologists at St. Lawrence University have determined that those who chew gum, both sugary and sugar-free, while performing tricky cognitive tasks, outperform those who do not, if only for a short amount of time.
According to Wired:
The experiment went like this: 159 students were given a battery of demanding cognitive tasks, such as repeating random numbers backward and solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum (sugar-free and sugar-added) while the other half were given nothing. Here’s where things get peculiar: Those randomly assigned to the gum-chewing condition significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests. (The one exception was verbal fluency, in which subjects were asked to name as many words as possible from a given category, such as “animals.”) The sugar content of the gum had no effect on test performance.
Unfortunately, the boost only worked for approximately 20 minutes; after that, the subjects performed on par with the non-gum-chewers.
How does this work? Apparently, the mere act of chewing enhances concentration, alertness, and attention. As shown in a similar project at Cardiff University, the subjects who had been chewing gum tested for elevated heart rates and cortisol levels, indicating alertness. The subjects were even shown to have faster reaction times and better moods during testing.
And so, Scotties, if you find your mind wandering away to your future holiday plans (Walt Disney World? Beach in Hawaii? Cozy evening around the Christmas tree?) during exams, try chewing gum to get back into the game.