Effects of Chewing on Cognitive Processing Speed, Maybe

This study adds a big “maybe” to the possibly-thought-inducing question of whether chewing speeds up a person’s brain, or parts of a person’s brain, or aspects of what might happen in part or parts of a person’s brain, more or less. The researchers reach a tentative “could” in the final sentence of their summary:

Effects of Chewing on Cognitive Processing Speed,” Yoshiyuki Hirano, Takayuki Obata, Hidehiko Takahashi, Atsumichi Tachibana, Daigo Kuroiwa, Toru Takahashi, Hiroo Ikehira, Minoru Onozuka, Brain and Cognition, Volume 81, Issue 3, April 2013, Pages 376–381. (Thanks to investigator Sylvie Coyaud for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, and several other institutions in Japan, explain:

“We have reported that chewing may improve or recover the process of working memory; however, the mechanisms underlying these phenomena are still to be elucidated. We investigated the effect of chewing on aspects of attention and cognitive processing speed, testing the hypothesis that this effect induces higher cognitive performance. Seventeen healthy adults [chewed and/or did not chew]. Behavioral results showed that mean reaction time was significantly decreased during chewing condition, regardless of speed-accuracy trade-off, although there were no significant changes in behavioral effects. On the other hand, fMRI analysis revealed higher activations in the anterior cingulate cortex and left frontal gyrus for the executive network and motor-related regions for both attentional networks during chewing condition. These results suggested that chewing induced an increase in the arousal level and alertness in addition to an effect on motor control and, as a consequence, these effects could lead to improvements in cognitive performance.”

BONUS: To chew, or not to chew…