Chewing gum can mess with your mind

Teachers who make classes stop chewing gum might be right — it can mess with your mind, research suggests. As it turns out, walking and chewing gum at the same time might be more difficult than we ever suspected.

Usually, trying to do more than one thing at once impairs at least one of those tasks. For instance, tapping your finger while trying to remember a list of digits such as a phone number makes the digits harder to recall.

A past study had suggested that chewing gum could improve short-term memory — recognizing words and numbers, for example. Researchers had suggested that perhaps the act of chewing sent more blood to the brain.

However, scientists at Cardiff University in Wales now find chewing gum can impair classic tests of short-term memory — recalling lists of words and numbers in the order in which they were seen or heard. They also saw that people were less able to spot missing items in lists — for instance, that '7' was missing the list '28149365' taken from the digit set 1 to 9.

So what might explain these contradictory results? The scientists at Cardiff noted they used flavorless gum, while the past study used minty gum. Flavor might make a key difference — the brain might better remember tasks linked with pleasant experiences such as nice flavors, they suggest in findings detailed online March 12 in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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