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February 25, 2004 1 min read
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Chewing It Over

Forget all those grade school admonitions about chewing gum in the classroom. A new pilot study suggests that—just maybe—a pack a day of Bazooka can improve learning.

The study, due to be presented next month at the annual meeting of the American Association for Dental Research, is the handiwork of Dr. Kenneth L. Allen.

Dr. Allen, an assistant professor of dentistry at New York University, needed money last year for a study investigating whether his dental students could learn as much about dental anatomy from CD-ROMs as they do from traditional lectures. When a friend told him that the Wrigley’s gum company was interested in doing a study on learning and chewing gum, Dr. Allen figured he had found his patron.

With support from Wrigley’s and an ample supply of sugarless chewing gum, Dr. Allen undertook a pilot study in which he randomly divided 56 dental students into two groups. One group used the software-based lessons and another learned the same material via lectures. Within each of those groups, half of the participants were told to chew gum while they studied. The other half were forbidden to indulge in the practice.

After four days, Dr. Allen tested all the students on the material. He discovered that the gum-chewers scored, on average, a B-minus on the written tests, while the abstainers averaged a C- plus. The gum-chewers also slightly outperformed the control group on a task requiring students to carve a tooth out of wax.

The differences were “educationally significant but not statistically significant,” according to Dr. Allen, who is conducting a full-blown study to further test his findings.

The researcher has no idea whether he would get the same results with younger learners. He noted, however, that some untested theories do support the general idea that chewing gum aids learning. At least one study, for instance, suggests that gum-chewing can increase the rate of oxygenation in the brain.

Of course, the burning practical question is whether Dr. Allen found more wads of dried gum stuck to the undersides of the desks in the dental college.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

The volunteers in his study were given plastic cups for that purpose.

—Debra Viadero dviadero@epe.org

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