Over the last few months, fidget spinners have become all the rage among children and adults in the United States. Fidget spinners are hand-held devices containing ball bearings that can be manipulated to spin between the fingers. Tens of millions have been sold in the U.S.
Manufacturers claim these spinning toys can help children focus better, especially children with autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some parents reported their child improved with the fidget spinner. However, there is no science to support these claims. There have been no scientific studies to demonstrate how fidget spinners, or other fidget toys with movable parts, help children pay attention better.
Research has shown a correlation between fidgeting and inattention. People tend to fidget more when they are feeling distracted or bored. The evidence suggests that small amounts of spontaneous, mindless fidgeting may help a person pay attention to a task better. Examples of spontaneous mindless fidgeting may include bouncing a leg, tapping a pencil or twirling one’s own hair. Additionally, repetitive, automatic fine motor activity can also enhance a person’s ability to focus, such as doodling or knitting.
Research also found that suppressing spontaneous fidgeting can make it harder for a person to focus and pay attention to a task. One of the most common examples of suppressing spontaneous fidgeting is when a teacher tells a child to sit still. Studies found that telling a person to stop or suppress their natural urge to fidget can actually make it much harder for that person to pay attention to a task.
On the other hand, larger fidgeting movements can become distracting to the fidgetor and disruptive to those around them. The more complex the fidgeting behavior, the more distracted a person may become. Handling an object in the hand that requires manipulation engages regions of the brain used for learning, motor memory and visual spatial skills. This will redirect a person’s attention to the fidgeting device rather than the activity in the classroom or workplace..
Teachers are reporting fidget toys, such as fidget spinners and fidget cubes, have become disruptive within their classrooms, and some schools are banning them because the toys are disruptive to the learning environment.
Although manufactures of these fidget toys may quote science as part of their marketing, it does not mean the science applies to their products. I would behoove parents to be cautious when deciding to purchase toys for children that claim to address a medical condition. Beware of pseudoscience.