By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Most witnesses in trial or deposition would know enough not to testify with a big wad of chewing gum in their mouths. Only, these witnesses probably haven't heard about a new study that purports to show that, when gum-chewers are compared to non-chewers, those chewing gum are viewed as more friendly, more popular, more approachable, and even sexier. The study involved several pairs of identical twins, identically dressed in various ways, and sitting in identical posture in front of the research participants. One twin was chewing gum while the other was told to simply sit there wearing a neutral expression. Participants were given two buttons to push and asked a series of questions like, "Which person has more friends?" or "Which businessman would be more likely to give you a raise?" or "Which police officer is the 'bad cop'?" The twin winning the more favorable impression across these different scenarios ends up being the twin who is chewing gum. That favorable impression is enjoyed by a wide margin with 73 percent preferring the gum-chewer.
All of this was conducted at the Buenos Aires Museum of Contemporary Art, and is illustrated in a well-produced video (that I've embedded below). By all appearances, it must have been a fun and interesting project. The only problem is that it is one of the most transparently manipulative and self-interested studies you'll ever come across. The biggest hint should be that it was all conducted by the Beldent chewing gum company, and was designed to rebut the belief that there is a social stigma attached to chewing gum. Despite that self-interest and a very clear slant in the method, the study nonetheless carries a very important lesson on nonverbal communication that applies not only to witnesses but to all communicators. That lesson isn't to chew gum in order to look sexier. Instead, the lesson is to take some studies with a grain of salt, and also to understand the role that simple activity plays in building credibility.