• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Monday 11th March, 2013

A piece of gum for everyone? Chewing in class might lead to higher math grades

strong>Schools commonly ban children from chewing gum in class. But a study in Texas suggests that providing teenage math students with a piece of gum could improve their test scores and help them maintain higher grades.Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston randomly allocated four classes of 13-to 16-year old students either to be given sugar-free gum to chew during their math classes, homework and tests, or not. Both groups were taught the same curriculum by the same teachers and attended a school where gum chewing was, otherwise, prohibited on campus.Comparing class grades and performance in standardized math tests over 14 weeks the study found that test scores improved for both groups, but those in the classes provided with gum were significantly better. A significant effect favoring the gum-chewing students was also found for math grades, although these had declined in both groups. Replication requiredThe researchers were funded by the Wrigley Science Institute, which is “committed to advancing and sharing scientific research that explores the benefits of chewing gum”. Previous studies have suggested that gum chewing by adults can improve aspects of cognitive performance, including memory during specific recognition tasks. The Texas research is the first study of this kind to involve young people. Craig Johnston and colleagues at Baylor College note that the positive effects were modest and applied chiefly to the particular math concepts assessed in standardized tests. There was no equivalent improvement in tests measuring a broader grasp of mathematical concepts. This could have been due to the fact that teachers’ were focusing on test requirements rather than broader concepts. Also, the measurement period may not have been long enough to detect changes in students’ ability to understand less familiar concepts. The researchers conclude that replication testing is required on a larger sample than the 108 students they included in their randomized controlled trial. This would help to determine which factors (for example, reductions in anxiety or increased attention) might be responsible for any improvements that are found. They, nevertheless, suggest that if larger-scale and more in-depth research continues to attribute positive effects to gum chewing, it may prove to be an easy and inexpensive way to improve academic attainment. ********* Reference:Johnston, C. A., Tyler, C., Stansberry, S. A., Moreno, J. P., & Foreyt, J. P. (2012). Brief report: Gum chewing affects standardized math scores in adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 35 (2), 455-459.

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