Gum chewing inhibits the sensory processing and the propagation of stress-related information in a brain network

PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e57111. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057111. Epub 2013 Apr 3.


Stress is prevalent in human life and threatens both physical and mental health; stress coping is thus of adaptive value for individual's survival and well-being. Although there has been extensive research on how the neural and physiological systems respond to stressful stimulation, relatively little is known about how the brain dynamically copes with stress evoked by this stimulation. Here we investigated how stress is relieved by a popular coping behavior, namely, gum chewing. In an fMRI study, we used loud noise as an acute stressor and asked participants to rate their feeling of stress in gum-chewing and no-chewing conditions. The participants generally felt more stressful when hearing noise, but less so when they were simultaneously chewing gum. The bilateral superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the left anterior insula (AI) were activated by noise, and their activations showed a positive correlation with the self-reported feeling of stress. Critically, gum chewing significantly reduced the noise-induced activation in these areas. Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis showed that the functional connectivity between the left AI and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) was increased by noise to a lesser extent when the participants were chewing gum than when not chewing gum. Dynamic causality modeling (DCM) demonstrated that gum chewing inhibited the connectivity from the STS to the left AI. These findings demonstrate that gum chewing relieves stress by attenuating the sensory processing of external stressor and by inhibiting the propagation of stress-related information in the brain stress network.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / psychology
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Chewing Gum*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mastication*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Young Adult


  • Chewing Gum

Grants and funding

This study was supported by National Basic Research Program (973 Program: 2010CB833904) and National Science and Technology Pillar Program (2009BAI77B04) of China and by a grant from Natural Science Foundation of China (30110972). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.