Talking about chocolate does not make up for faulty science

The Telegraph reports that eating chocolate can make you better at math. At first glance, this seems like a fabulous idea. My mental arithmetic skills are pretty abysmal – though I do calculate a mean derivative – so here’s another excuse to eat chocolate!

Except for the fact that, based on the description in the article, the experiment seems flawed. They gave groups of volunteers a chocolatey drink containing flavanols (magical mathematical compound), and then asked groups of volunteers to “count backwards in groups of three from a random number between 800 and 999 generated by a computer. The findings show that they could do the calculations more quickly and more accurately after they had been given the drink.”

Um, wait a second. You introduced a group of people to an experiment, then changed a variable, and then got the same group of people to do the exact same experiment? Did you correct for the fact that most people aren’t morons and actually learn from their experiences? 

Also, consider that “the researchers gave the volunteers a total of 500mg of flavanol. Although the amount was too great to be found naturally in the diet, researchers said that people should ensure that they have lots of flavanols, also found in fruit and vegetables, on a regular basis.” (Emphasis above is mine.)

Let me get this straight. You dose people with a drink that contains far more of an active ingredient than anyone could get under normal circumstances, even in a super-bar of chocolate. Further, this active ingredient is present in things other than chocolate – for instance, fruits and vegetables – that people probably eat anyway. And then you conclude, of all the possible interpretations of all the possible variables, that eating chocolate (not fruits, nor vegetables) makes you better at math.


Published by: Eagranie

7 years as a chemist + 9 months of culinary school + 2 years as a pastry chef & chocolatier + a lifetime of writing = this blog. This blog won't always be about chocolate, but it will almost certainly be about food. The name of the blog is a triple play on words. 1. It's a nod to my training as a classical pianist. Among other fantastic accomplishments, J.S. Bach combined technical prowess with artistic inspiration and penned the 24 preludes & fugues that make up The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. 2. In order to behave properly, chocolate needs to be tempered. In a nutshell, tempering prompts the chocolate to assume its most stable crystalline form (beta prime, if you're interested) so that it is shiny, snappy, and as stable as it can be. 3. Depending on my mood and how we meet, you might agree that I'm well-tempered. Or not.

Categories 2009, Food scienceTags, 3 Comments

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