Does chocolate make you smarter? Well, it might, at least coincidentally. According to a "very tongue-in-cheek" report published this week by the New England Journal of Medicine, countries with the highest annual chocolate consumption rates produce more Nobel Prize winners than other nations — and the data, for some reason, correlates surprisingly well. But before you start scarfing down Hershey bars in the hopes of becoming the next Mo Yan, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, here's what you should know:
How did this study come about?
Franz Messerli, a noted cardiologist and published scientific author at New York's St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, says he came up with the "silly" idea to plot the chocolate consumption data after being asked to peer review an article on the cognition-boosting power of flavanols, the substance that gives green tea, red wine, and chocolate their purported health benefits. He plugged in data related to chocolate intake in 23 countries and a Wikipedia list ranking countries by Nobel laureates per capita. "I could not believe my eyes," Messerli tells Reuters. Nearly all the countries lined up on a graph, with a clear link between higher chocolate intake and Nobel Prize winners. "Not only was the correlation...very significant," adds Kevin Charles Redmon at NPR, "but the probability that the distribution was due to chance — what researchers call the 'p-value' — was tiny."
So which country eats the most chocolate?
The Swiss, naturally, says Brian Palmer at Slate. On average, every Swiss man, woman, and child consumes about 120 bars of chocolate every year. And, according to Messerli's calculations, Switzerland "ranks second behind Sweden in laureates per capita. (The author accuses the Sweden-based Nobel committee of favoritism.)" Despite an inauspicious climate for growing cocoa, the Swiss came to "dominate the chocolate world" thanks to several innovations, most notably Daniel Peter's 1875 discovery that cocoa powder combines exceptionally well with local milk, says Palmer. Voilà: Milk chocolate.
How does the U.S. rank?
Americans are somewhere in the middle of the pack. If the U.S. wants to produce more laureates, jokes Messerli, it would have to drastically increase its cocoa intake — by 275 million pounds per year.
Why is there a link between chocolate and Nobel distinction?
The answer could be really simple, says Slate's Palmer: "Wealth." Chocolate is a luxury good, and countries with more money typically have better education systems. Countries that grow actual cocoa — like the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, and Ghana — typically don't consume it.
Are we supposed to take this study seriously?
Not really. "Personally," says Messerli, "I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid. Dark chocolate is the way to go… if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate."