The Science Behind Fidgeting


Fidget spinners—the cool, new fad that everyone wants to get their hands on. It’s no doubt that this simple little toy has taken the world by storm, fascinating people by just spinning and spinning. Many people view the spinner, and similar fidget toys such as the Fidget Cube just as “toys”, but others use them for their intended purpose, which is supposedly to aid their concentration. So, does science prove or disprove this?

The answer is: both!

Fidgeting is often a sign that one is not concentrating and their mind is wandering, as they are not stimulated enough and fidget to self-stimulate. However, this same reasoning can be used to prove that fidgeting is actually helpful. Research shows that an optimal level of stimulation can help someone perform a task to the best of their ability, and the amount of stimulation varies depending on the individual and the nature of the task. Some examples of this are people taking a brief walk after working for a long time, someone listening to calm music from earphones to block out a noisy environment, or someone not listening to music because the noise from the same environment just mentioned might stimulate them instead.

Like the examples listed above, fidgeting is just another means for someone to stimulate themselves but via touch, which is called tactile stimulation. This often means performing small, repetitive motions on one’s body or an object. It can also provide relief for some as it is a way to displace their stress, which is the principle of how stress balls work. Although there has been no significant, definite study done on the effects of fidget toys yet, several studies show that fidgeting does indeed help individuals with ADHD to focus better, as well as accounts from numerous people with attention or anxiety issues.

This doesn’t mean that every fidget item can provide an equal level of help, though. As mentioned above, fidgeting provides tactile stimulation, and while fidget spinners do provide a weighted sensation and many enjoy the feeling of continuously tilting a spinner, there isn’t much tactile stimulation involved. In fact, the spinning is more of a visual stimulant, which can easily distract someone from the task at hand. It is not to say that fidget spinners are completely useless, but items such as the Fidget Cube, or simply a pen or some putty that aren’t as visually distracting could be of more help.

For many, fidget toys will just be another trend that will pass in perhaps a few months’ time, but for those who truly focus better by fidgeting, science shows that these items may actually help in the long term. However, instead of immediately going for the popular fidget spinner, it should be noted that some alternatives may be more effective and should definitely be considered.

Written by Yong En Foo, Year 9


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