I read this article over at BrainBlogger with interest. In it they discuss a study that replicated previous results observing people’s executive functions while chewing gum:
[R]esearch has shown that the act of chewing gum can significantly reduce reaction times during certain tests, including numerical working memory, sustained alertness, auditory oddball, and semantic memory tasks.
Auditory oddball is a neurological tests that measures reaction to a change in an unpredictable series of sounds. Semantic memory is what we think of as rote memory — it’s not connected to our personal experiences and is a structured record of facts — like memorizing all the states or the periodic table.
Some of us just think better when our mouths are busy; chewing gum gives us something to do. This can be a special boon for parents whose kids are easily distractible. A little chewing gum can go a long way to help a child focus on his homework or chores and it’s surely better for your teeth than gnawing on your pencil (I chewed most of my pens into oblivion when I was in elementary school and once caught a mouthful of ink).
A social worker of my acquaintance told me that sour candy can work wonders, too. She keeps Sourpatch Kids in her purse for times when her sensory-seeking daughter needs help focusing on the task at hand.