Does chewing gum make students smarter?

You can’t make this stuff up.

My soon-to-appear “Education à la Silhouette: The Need for Semiotically-Informed Curriculum Consciousness.” Semiotica 164, no. 1/4 (2007): pp. 235-329.) begins with a brief excerpt from the NBC Today show in which test scores are equated with “smartness” (see below), in a story on “Two recent studies [that] show chewing gum may make you smarter.”

Believe this or not: At AERA last week, in the exhibit hall, there was actually an exhibit added (after the map of exhibits was done for the program — but if it’s Chicago, and you’re Wrigley, you can do these things) on the benefits of chewing gum. Based on this research, a new Wrigley Science Institute has been established, with a Web site with pages that footnote studies such as

1 Sasaki, A. “Influence of mastication on the amount of hemoglobin in human brain tissue.” Journal of Stomatological Society. 2001 Mar; 68 (1): 72-81.

To their credit, the Wrigley’s people make more precise claims about focus, concentration, and alertness, not about test scores or “smartness” — much less their equivalence. From the Today show transcript:

To clarify the nature of the fundamental difference between positive and semiosically mediative conceptions of meaning, we begin with an example that may seem trivial, but is useful as a clear instance of an implicitly positivist lived ideology, an instance in which test scores-which might, arguably, serve as a mediative sign of ‘smartness’-are discussed, instead, as if they positively re-present ‘smartness’ in itself.

KATIE COURIC, co-host: … a couple of studies [indicate that chewing gum] may actually make you more intelligent. ….
JAMIE GANGEL reporting: …. according to this expert, they are…
Dr. KENNETH ALLEN (New York University School of Dentistry): Very smart people.
GANGEL: That’s right. Two recent studies show chewing gum may make you smarter.
Dr. ALLEN: We found that the students who chewed gum did better on a written exam than the students who did not chew gum.
GANGEL: About how much better?
Dr. ALLEN: The difference between a C+ and a B, which is a significant difference.
GANGEL: Larger studies still need to be done, but more schools are allowing students to chew gum, especially during tests. ….
Even if it does make you smarter, many argue it will never look smart. But the gum makers are prepared to try. (NBC News 2005)

What’s interesting for us in this Today Show segment is how unproblematically being ‘smarter’ is equated with getting higher scores on tests. If we think of test scores as indicators, or as signs of someone’s knowledge, understanding, or ability, we cannot jump to the conclusion that the gum-chewers are smarter, without first ruling out the possibility that chewing gum could have a direct effect on test performance, even without having an effect on the smartness of those who chew gum while taking the test. That question is not being asked, however, in this discourse. This is a discourse that does not feature test results as (potentially useful, but also possibly questionable) signs of learning or intellectual ability, but simply and directly as smartness itself, in its objectively documented form.

Added 4/24/2007: Don’t miss this! (And consider the theory of learning that’s implicit in the animated clip):


  1. Posted May 15, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    i am doing a report on how kids should be able to chew gum in school! i have found some things but i dont really know if it is true or not some please help me and e-mail back A.S.A.P.!

  2. Posted May 15, 2007 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Scientific research has been published in a journal named “Appetite.” You might find that in a University library, or if you know somebody at a university they can find articles on the web through their library’s online subscriptions.

    If you don’t have that kind of access, maybe the Wrigley company at
    would send you some articles.

    Even when studies are financially supported by a company like Wrigley that has an interest in the results, the “peer-review” process required for publication in a bona fide scientific journal is supposed to assure validity of the study — although sometimes people still have doubts and questions.

  3. Posted January 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    i think that gum chewing should be aloud to be able in school and it also affects learning in a good way.

  4. jessica
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Im in grade 8 and i hate the no gum chewing rule! its been proven that student think better because it clears their brain and relexes them..
    If you have any information im doing a speech on the “no gum chewing” in schools and how we should be abbgle to chew it..
    Please email me if you have any information on this subject<

  5. Posted February 8, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    i don’t know if gum makes people smarter. people can be distracted by the gum by popping bubbles and doing nothing but that. i am an alaskan native.

  6. Christina
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    it does help and the flovor of gim i think matters to thats what i am doing for a science experiment for my school i’m testing sour,fruity or mint which one do you guys think will have a better effect

  7. katie taylor
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    i tink dat chewin gum is helpful it helps me tink and research proves that it makes u smartter

  8. Pam Herrington
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I teach 1st grade and I pass out gum for students on Fridays to take their tests. They love it and they focus better. We have a no gum rule here but I beleive its a good thing.

  9. mason
    Posted September 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    chewing gum may help people concentrate. our skool tried it a few years ago and there was gum every where

  10. Posted September 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    i want to see it proven so i can take it to my principal and say it really does stimulate your brain so i can prove it
    our school has the best istep scores in the school coorperation
    i could explain that it woul dhelp us so much

  11. Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    i hate gum i want to gag

  12. Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    gum is for losers

  13. Posted October 2, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    jk ilove it so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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