Do Fidget Spinners Actually Work?

Fidget spinners have become one of the best-selling toys in the nation, sweeping elementary and middle schools, while demanding attention of concerned parents and teachers. The ubiquitous toy—which consists of a small blades that spin around a core—has been banned in many classrooms because they’re viewed as a distraction. But, it turns out fidget spinners are intended to have the opposite effect. The toys are actually meant to relieve lack of focus and restlessness common in individuals with ADHD, anxiety, and autism.

Fidget spinners are among a long line of fidget toys—such as stress balls and ballpoint pens—that help limit distraction and improve performance. The utility of fidgeting can be explained using the famous Yerkes-Dodson law of arousal. According to the law, an individual requires a certain level of arousal, or stimulation, to achieve optimal performance. Based on the Yerkes-Dodson law, the spinning blades of a fidget spinner draws the eyes of its user and may provide the individual with an optimal level of arousal—which then helps lead to peak performance on a given task.

So, imagine someone’s working on an assignment but, with all the loud noises, their classroom environment is too uncomfortable. There’s too many distractions, or stimuli, which prevent the student from performing well on their assignment. This person might use the a fidget spinner as a way to limit the distractions and reach a level of arousal that helps them focus. Now, the seemingly distracting classroom may actually provide an optimal level of stimulation for some—for these people, a fidget spinner is useless.

This whole idea might seem far-fetched, but studies do show that fidget toys may help people who have trouble focusing in their environments. One preliminary study found that sixth graders who used stress balls reported that their “attitude, attention, writing abilities, and peer interaction improved.” Meanwhile, a study done at UC Davis that fidgeting helped children with ADHD with their performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

So, the big takeaway from fidget spinners is that they can work for some. It all depends on the individual, and the optimal amount of stimulation they need to complete tasks. But, fidget spinners don’t work for people who don’t need them. By fidgeting with people’s optimal level of stimulation, spinners can distract, too.

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Imaz Athar

Imaz Athar is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, double majoring in Neuroscience and Sociology. He aspires to become a physician and plans on attending medical school in Fall 2017. Imaz fell in love with the art of writing at a young age and is currently the Publisher of Pitt's undergraduate-run science magazine The Pitt Pulse. When he's not writing or keeping up with classes, Imaz enjoys running, playing basketball, watching Empire, singing (in the shower), and listening to all kinds of music.