Could gum improve our productivity during school or work? This has often been the question at hand as various institutions try to uncover ways to boost productivity. Schools throughout the country have often dealt with the debate over whether gum should be allowed on school grounds. While it might help students focus, it has a sticky habit of ending up on floors and under chairs and desks, rather than in the trash.
Over the past several decades, numerous researchers have attempted to answer the question of whether gum can influence productivity. In 2008, a Wrigley-sponsored test of 111 teenage students showed that “students who chewed gum showed an increase in standardized math test scores” — or at least, that’s what a press release from Wrigley said. The details of the study were published on ClinicalTrials.gov, however, and many outside researchers noted that the differences in performance were so small that they were, statistically speaking, potentially non-existent.
Another study from the German University of Oldenburg in 2009 attempted to measure whether nine-year-old students chewing fruity sugar-free gum were better able to concentrate — according to their data, chewing gum had a “significant and positive effect” on the students’ ability to concentrate.
Companies would be interested in knowing whether something so simple as gum could have a real impact on productivity. The cost of lost productivity for employers can be high when added up altogether — lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs U.S. employers over $300 billion annually, according to a Gallup study. It’s worth noting that an hour more of productivity a day adds up to six weeks of productive work time per year. If researchers could prove the effectiveness of gum, employers would be smart to start providing some for all employees.
Perhaps the most honest study of gum is one of the oldest ones, as well. In the 1930s, Harry Hollingworth, of Columbia University, wrote a book detailing experiments on how chewing gum affected everything from concentration to pulse rate. Hollingworth’s book noted that chewing gum not only had very little effect, but many of the noticeable results came from the act of chewing and not gum itself — in order words, study participants would respond nearly the same if they had mints or raisins since it was about flavors and chewing, not the gum itself.