“Fidget spinners” are small, ball-bearing devices that the user can rotate between his or her fingers. The momentum of the toy provides a pleasing sensory experience, according to user reviews, while the challenge of tossing, transferring and twirling the spinners has spawned an entire universe of instructional YouTube videos. [How Fidget Spinners Work: It’s All About the Physics]
Many spinners are marketed as aides for individuals with anxiety, autism and ADHD; Cppslee’s spinner marketing patter on Amazon, for example, promises greater concentration for people with those conditions, plus an opportunity to “bring out that creative genius lying deep within you.” [Why Fidget Spinners Are So Hot (and Where to Buy Them)]
Unsurprisingly, these claims are probably overblown, scientists say.
“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD.
(The so-called fidget cube — which is a plastic cube equipped with various buttons and dials for fidgeting hands — may be more classroom friendly, according to a scientist who studies intersection of human computer interaction and games, who pointed out on the website The Conversation that the cube doesn’t require visual attention. “They can serve the same purpose as the spinners, but are more classroom-ready and less distracting,” Katherine Isbister, professor of Computational Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote on The Conversation.)
Regardless of their usefulness in keeping kids’ distracted brains focused, fidget spinners have sparked a conversation about attention spans in kids and how to help the little ones focus, experts told Live Science. For instance, though there isn’t a lot of data supporting the idea that kids have less focus today than in the past, some research does suggest attention spans have decreased as multitasking has increased with the digital age, one expert said. There are various methods for bringing kids’ focus back to the lesson at hand, psychologists say, including fidgeting devices, activity breaks and the simple removal of extra distractions. (The devices may also teach kids something about physics, or at least ball bearings.)
A trend erupts
Fidget spinners emerged this spring, seemingly from out of nowhere, as a must-have gadget. Before December 2016, Google searches for the words “fidget spinner” were basically nonexistent. Now, teachers are posting about their frustrations with spinner-obsessed students on Twitter, and the toys even have their own forum on Reddit.
“I will call you ‘Annoying Spinny Thing’ and you will live in my desk drawer,” Kansas Spanish teacher Amanda Dickey tweeted, punctuating her message with #fidgetspinner and #teacherprobs. [How to Do Timeout: 12 Tips from Science]