Does Chewing Gum Make You More Likable?

beldent-hed-2014A video that recently went viral on YouTube has me a bit stumped.

In the video (which you may have seen months ago–the time stamp is November 2013–but it recently got attention as one of the best commercials of 2013), identical twins sit in front of a random person. The random person wears headphones that asks them a series of questions, like, “Which person seems like he has more friends?,” and they respond by pressing a button associated with the person of their choice.

The twist is that one of the twins is chewing gum.

Personally, I don’t have the best perception of people who chew gum, particularly when they do so at the wrong time or place. It makes a person seem ditsy (picture a high school girl smacking gum and rolling her eyes at a teacher) or disrespectful (picture a guy jeans chewing gum at a funeral).

So this video completely stumped me, as the random subjects’ reactions to the twin chewing gum were that they thought they were significantly cooler, nicer, more generous, etc. Here’s a sampling of a few of the questions to which people pointed to the gum chewers:

  • Which person gets invited to more parties?
  • Which of these bosses would give you a raise?
  • Which person has a better sex life?

All of the other questions were things that reflected poorly on someone, and time after time the participants chose the non-gum chewer. At the end of the video, we’re told that 73% of the participants favored the twin who chewed gum.

I’m left to wonder–is the experiment flawed in some way? Or am I just in the 27%? One blogger named Lucia Peters seems to think that some different questions should have been asked, and I like what she had to say:

What about questions like, “Which one is most likely to cancel plans with you at the last minute?” Or, “Which one is most likely to run a work project in on time?” I’m speculating here, but I’d bet that the gum chewer would be seen as the flake and the non-gum-chewer would be seen as the reliable one. I’d love to see what the outcome of an experiment like this would be like if it consisted of a more balanced set of questions.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Does Chewing Gum Make You More Likable?”

  1. This is a “pop psych” experiment conducted by a chewing gum company and should be seen with a critical eye.

    One problem I see is the setting. Firstly, a person that is sitting perfectly stationary is very unnatural.

    A psychologist friend once told me about a social thought exercise she learned in her first year of uni. If you have an elevator full of people facing towards the door but have one person facing backwards; this causes an immense social discomfort. I see this as something similar.

    I suspect a person that chew gum is perceived to be relatively more sociable/engaging than a person sitting motionless. They may also seem less awkward to interact with. I want to see the twins perform a socially acceptable tasks instead. Have the twins read a book for example and see if the outcome is any different.

    Reply
    • Allen and Trevor: You two tough upon the fact that the twins should be doing something more natural, something that normal human beings do (not sitting and looking straight ahead with blank expressions). That makes sense to me.

      Jasmin: I don’t know if they’re actually identical–that could make a difference in the experiment too.

      Reply
  2. This is a horrible “experiment”. It’s extremely flawed. I think I see some smiles and lots of movement on some twin more than the other. Also, I think the girls are fretnal twins. They don’t look very identical to me.

    And the question asking which cop I think is the bad cop, I picked the one chewing. He looked suspicious to me.

    Reply
  3. I’d agree with the conclusion that I prefer someone chewing gum to someone who seems like an emotionless serial killer. I also think the results may have been drastically different if, as other commenters have noted, the twins were performing normal human activities (even the same activities), and the one difference was gum chewing.

    Reply
    • I just had a wicked thought – after the first battery of questions, new information is given. “That twin is not chewing gum – that twin is chewing a piece of human flesh.”

      Reply
  4. Couple of biases going on that are skewing results.
    (1) Apophenia. In the absence of relevant information, irrelevant information is relied upon to make a decision.
    (2) Bifurcation – dichotomization phenomenon: I ask you a positive question – “Which do you think has a girlfriend?” followed by a negative question – “Which do you think is more likely to cheat on his girlfriend?”. In all truth, the respondent can pick the same one for both, but the perception of an opposite combined with bifurcated choice means that if one gets the positive answer, the other gets the negative.
    (3) False dichotomy driven by context. Let’s repeat the experiment with one twin chewing gum (as before) and the other twin texting every few seconds, sometimes laughing, sometimes looking sympathetic. The results would likely be switched and the gum-chewing twin would be the imaginary-friend-having, bed-wetting, shoplifting, bad cop. What’s changed? Not the information about the gum chewer, but the information about the other twin, which re-casts the information about the gum chewer.
    (4) Forced scaling. There’s no “I don’t know” or “either”.

    Reply
    • JT: That’s an excellent breakdown of the way those results are skewed. The bifurcation element is particularly interesting to me–I’m impressed that you identified that.

      Also, your flesh-chewing comment (while very, very dark) made me laugh out loud. 🙂

      Reply
      • Thanks. I’m actually going to use this in a meeting today – I’ve changed “flesh-chewing” to “eating a piece of homemade raccoon jerky”.

        Reply

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