Does chocolate make you clever?

Does chocolate make you clever?
Does chocolate make you clever?

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ating more chocolate improves a nation’s chances of producing Nobel Prize winners – or at least that’s what a recent study appears to suggest. But how much chocolate do Nobel laureates eat, and how could any such link be explained?

The study‘s author, Franz Messerli of Colombia University, started wondering about the power of chocolate after reading that cocoa was good for you.

One paper suggested regular cocoa intake led to improved mental function in elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment, a condition which is often a precursor to dementia, he recalls.

“There is data in rats showing that they live longer and have better cognitive function when they eat chocolate, and even in snails you can show that the snail memory is actually improved,” he says.

So Messerli took the number of Nobel Prize winners in a country as an indicator of general national intelligence and compared that with the nation’s chocolate consumption. The results – published in the New England Journal of Medicine – were striking.

Chocolate consumption and Nobel laureates

Does chocolate make you clever?
Does chocolate make you clever?

“When you correlate the two – the chocolate consumption with the number of Nobel prize laureates per capita – there is an incredibly close relationship,” he says.

“This correlation has a ‘P value’ of 0.0001. This means there is a less than one-in-10,000 probability that this correlation is simply down to chance.”

It might not surprise you that Switzerland came top of the chocolate-fuelled league of intelligence, having both the highest chocolate consumption per head and also the highest number of Nobel laureates per capita.

Sweden, however, was an anomaly. It had a very high number of Nobel laureates but its people consumed much less chocolate on average.

Messerli has a theory: “The Nobel prize obviously is donated or evaluated in Sweden [apart from the Peace Prize] so I thought that the Swedes might have a slightly patriotic bias.

The Swiss eat the most chocolate... and have been rewarded with the most Nobel Prizes, per head of population
The Swiss eat the most chocolate… and have been rewarded with the most Nobel Prizes, per head of population

“Or the other option is that the Swedes are excessively sensitive and only small amounts stimulate greatly their intelligence, so that might be the reason that they have so many Nobel Prize laureates.”

We conducted our own, entirely unscientific, survey to ascertain just how much chocolate Nobel laureates ate.

Christopher Pissarides, from the London School of Economics, reckons his chocolate consumption laid the foundations for his Nobel Prize for Economics in 2010.

“Throughout my life, ever since I was a young boy, chocolate was part of my diet. I would eat it on a daily basis. It’s one of the things I eat to cheer me up.

“To win a Nobel Prize you have to produce something that others haven’t thought about – chocolate that makes you feel good might contribute a