Bigger Brainiac: Bugs Bunny or Willy Wonka?

blogEntryTopperIn the never-ending debate of who might be the smartest fictional character (no such debate, I just made it up), I’ve always been partial to Bugs Bunny. It’s hard to bet against him when you watch how easily he manipulates Elmer Fudd and tools Daffy Duck (granted, not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they’re no Wily Coyote, either).

New research on chocolate and cognitive function suggests there may be a new player in the game, though … the whimsical Willy Wonka, owner of his own chocolate factory.

On a serious note, there is solid research suggesting that cognition can be affected by nutrition.
In an interesting 2008 meta-study done by Dr. Fernando Gmez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, diet was found to be one of a number of factors that helped improve cognitive function. According to Dr. Gmez-Pinilla, "Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain.”

Dr. Ron Friedman, writing for the Harvard Business Review, suggests that our food intake can indeed affect how our brains function. “Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance,” writes Dr. Friedman. Friedman also references a 2014 study published by the British Psychological Society suggesting that our intake of fruits and vegetables (more carrots, Mr. Bunny?) may influence our eudaemonic state, a really fancy way of saying our state of happiness. This study found that increased intake of fruits and vegetables by young adults led to higher levels of curiosity and creativity, critical to enhanced constructive learning.

Let’s be honest, though, can you really hope to influence young learners with fruits and vegetables? Way too healthy, no? We need a better sweeter alternative with which to tempt young learners. Enter … chocolate.

A recent article in the Washington Post offers a detailed summary of recent findings from a longitudinal study of nutrition begun in the mid-1970s. A sixth wave of questioning about dietary habits was incorporated in this study during the period from 2001-2006. And, the greatest finding in the history of research was: “We found that people that eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively. It’s significant - it touches a number of cognitive domains.”

That’s such a great finding that I’m not even going to review the methodology. I’m just going with the findings; we’ll cal it the Willy Wonka effect: Eat more chocolate … get smarter!

As teachers, we always need to remember that we moderate the learning process, the interaction between learner and content/material. Could diet be a tool to moderate, or influence, that learning process a bit more?
  • Are you in the habit of giving your students a treat after an exam or activity? Perhaps you should think about reversing that … a bit of chocolate before the test.
  • Instead of a weekly quiz, maybe a weekly Hersey’s KissTM is a better option.
  • Need more creative engagement in a class activity? Crudités to the rescue!
Chocolate may be the sweetest tool in your teaching toolkit, and may be the ticket to better cognition on the part of your students.

So, there you have it, chocolate rules the cognitive roost as Willy Wonka rides the chocolate river in his factory to the top of the fictional brainiac rankings.

Wait … what about this guy? Forget about eating chocolate to get smarter, what if you actually are chocolate. This Easter Bunny guy might be a whole new contender in the brainiac rankings.