Rationale: Recent research suggests that chewing gum may improve aspects of cognitive function and mood. There is also evidence suggesting that chewing gum reduces stress. It is important, therefore, to examine these two areas and to determine whether contextual factors (chewing habit, type of gum, and personality) modify such effects.
Objectives: The aims of the present study were: (i) to determine whether chewing gum improved mood and mental performance; (ii) to determine whether chewing gum had benefits in stressed individuals; and (iii) to determine whether chewing habit, type of gum and level of anxiety modified the effects of gum.
Subjects and methods: A cross-over study involving 133 volunteers was carried out. Each volunteer carried out a test session when they were chewing gum and without gum, with order of gum conditions counterbalanced across subjects. Baseline sessions were conducted prior to each test session. Approximately half of the volunteers were tested in 75 dBA noise (the stress condition) and the rest in quiet. Volunteers were stratified on chewing habit and anxiety level. Approximately, half of the volunteers were given mint gum and half fruit gum. The volunteers rated their mood at the start and end of each session and had their heart rate monitored over the session. Saliva samples were taken to allow cortisol levels (good indicator of alertness and stress) to be assayed. During the session, volunteers carried out tasks measuring a range of cognitive functions (aspects of memory, selective and sustained attention, psychomotor speed and accuracy).
Results: Chewing gum was associated with greater alertness and a more positive mood. Reaction times were quicker in the gum condition, and this effect became bigger as the task became more difficult. Chewing gum also improved selective and sustained attention. Heart rate and cortisol levels were higher when chewing which confirms the alerting effect of chewing gum.
Conclusions: Overall, the results suggest that chewing gum produces a number of benefits that are generally observed and not context-dependent. In contrast to some previous research, chewing gum failed to improve memory. Further research is now required to increase our knowledge of the behavioral effects of chewing gum and to identify the underlying mechanisms.