Monday, December 10, 2018

Elementary, middle, high and college students’ maturity levels vary. Some aren’t allowed to cross the street on their own, while others drive cross-country for summer break. Some receive good-night kisses from their mothers every evening, while others haven’t seen their parents in months. But there is one common denominator across all types of students: They are all obsessed with the fidget spinner, the ubiquitous plastic rotating noisemaker that has conquered the younger generation faster than Genghis Khan took Asia.

Some people say that these tiny twirling knicknacks serve a true purpose—helping children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism relieve their need to fidget, thus allowing them to concentrate better. And indeed, this claim appears to make logical sense; a 2015 study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that children with ADHD who fidgeted more in their seats while taking tests scored better on the tests than children with ADHD who fidgeted less. Therefore, it might be logical to conclude that a toy that promotes fidgeting might aid children with ADHD or autism (which shares some symptoms with ADHD) in concentration.

However, there is no scientific evidence to support this conclusion. The aforementioned study measured only “gross body movement,” movement of the limbs and torso, such as spinning around in an office chair, moving around in the chair and tapping feet. The study did not measure whether minuscule movements of the fingers, the activity required to spin a fidget spinner, were beneficial to children with ADHD. There is no scientific evidence that spinning a fidget spinner helps anyone concentrate.

In fact, one of the authors of that study, Dr. Mark Rapport of the University of Central Florida, suspects that fidget spinners are detrimental to children with ADHD. “Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Rapport on the website livescience.com. Fidget spinners are visually distracting in a way that tapping a foot is not; people are drawn to look at the spinners, which makes it more difficult to focus on other things.

The only support for spinners helping with concentration comes from anecdotal evidence, parents writing in to newspapers to tell how much a spinner helped their child who has ADHD or autism. But this is no true scientific evidence, as it is subject to many procedural problems. Perhaps fidget spinners truly are beneficial to a select few people but not to the vast majority of ADHD and autism patients, or perhaps the spinners are completely and utterly useless, and the placebo effect is at play: The belief that they are helpful causes the child’s concentration to improve.

But even if evidence arises that the spinners do benefit children with ADHD or autism, spinners are certainly not helpful to the majority of children who do not have any mental disorders. The same study that concluded that fidgeting helps children with ADHD also had a control group of typical children who performed exactly the opposite of the ADHD children: The more the control group fidgeted, the worse they performed on the tests. Rather than providing them an outlet for their innate need for movement, fidgeting seems to actively distract typical children from the task at hand. While there have been no scientific studies specifically on the effects of fidget spinners, given that they are distracting both for their appearance and for the noise they make while spinning, it seems hard to believe that they would have any benefits at all for children who do not have any sort of “fidget quota,” as ADHD and autism patients have.

But fidget spinners are not just useless and distracting—they are an annoyance to everybody around. The distinctive buzz that a cheap spinner (the kind of spinner accessible to most children) makes while rotating is bothersome at best and headache-inducing at worst. And the “tricks” that have become popular with the spinners more often than not end with the spinner falling to the floor with a loud thud—over and over and over again.

This is not to say that companies should be banned from manufacturing and selling fidget spinners (though, given that school has ended, they will likely go out of style extremely soon, if they haven’t already). Spinners are toys, and they are not dangerous (unless you eat one), so let the children play.

That said, make sure the children know that their “play” is likely bothering the people around them, and if they are asked to stop, they should. And spinners should certainly not be mistaken for productivity tools; unless a future study proves otherwise, they are more likely to inhibit than enhance concentration. They should not be allowed in the classroom, just like any other toy.

If you or someone you know has legitimate issues with concentration, try a fidget cube instead. It is a small plastic cube roughly twice the size of a casino die, with numerous balls, buttons and clickers, and it is less ostentatious and less noisy than a spinner. Whether the cube has psychological benefits is unclear, but it can’t hurt to try.

By Tani Greengart

 Tani Greengart is a rising senior at TABC and editor-in-chief of Kol Torah. He is currently a summer intern at the Jewish Link.