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Remember how the stress buster massage ball of the 90s became a sensation for use in treatments and therapy? Likewise, the last few months have seen popularity soar for a device called the fidget spinner, named simply because it spins when you fidget with it!

Kids can’t stop playing with this new toy, whilst some parents, teachers and experts are calling it a distraction (to the extent of imposing Fidget Free Zones and bans). We also can’t help but wonder whether it is advantageous, at all, and whether or not these spinners actually have any science behind them.

So, let’s analyze these controversial devices from the beginning.

What are they?

Small, colorful collectibles that typically consist of three parts: blades, a central disc and ball bearings. It is a simple mechanism of when the user flicks the arms, it rotates around the axis and keeps going as long as there is momentum. They're being sold for about $3-$6 in most major toy stores and online as well.

Where did they come from?

There are many theories of how fidget spinners came into existence but the most common one is that it was ideated in the 1900s by Catherine Hettinger of Florida. She designed it as a means to keep her daughter entertained, and also to relieve herself of symptoms of a muscular disorder, myasthenia gravis. After many designs and redesigns, she ultimately gave up due to high costs and rejection by Hasbro. Also leading up to the creation of today’s product is the case of Scott McCoskery prototyping the Torqbar, which was two-armed instead of three. A few years later, a Kickstarter project, ‘Fidget Cube’ was released that was a more complex version of the current spinner.

An LED fidget spinner.

An LED fidget spinner. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

What are their benefits?

Its purpose, not limited to leisure, is believed to include assistance to autistic, anxious and hyperactive individual. It is also stated that it acts as a sensory material for better hand-eye coordination in pre-school children and can help improve movements like twirling between the fingers, holding, manually increasing speed, throwing and tossing. Apart from this, the act of fidgeting apparently stimulates the brain cortex to tap into regions of control and planning. Some people understand that it could really improve concentration and creativity levels. If nothing else, it at least enlightens kids about concepts in physics — speed, velocity, friction, load and such.

Lifestyle writer, Cat Bowen, has authored a great testimonial and claims that her autistic son “has been more focused” since he’s come in contact with the plaything and now “homework just takes him 40 minutes instead of the usual one hour”. Another special-needs girl’s parent describes, “The fidget spinner is not a must-have craze to be like her friends, but more a stress release from the demands placed upon her during her school day.”

Despite allegedly rewarding applications in areas of childcare and mental health, ongoing arguments are doing the rounds about these controversial devices. Given that their creation was not a result of extensive knowledge of disability or even research, their benefits are perhaps tenuous at best. Mark Rapport, a psychologist dealing especially with attention-deficit patients said, “Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction rather than a benefit for individuals with ADHD.”

Whether these implications stand the test of time remains to be seen. Until then, the positive attributes of these spinners will be enjoyed by the believers: educators, caregivers, parents and children, alike! We go back to what, initiator Hettinger, mentioned, “There’s just a lot of circumstances in modern life when you’re boxed in, you’re cramped in, and we need this kind of thing to de-stress. It’s also fun. That’s the thing about culture, once everybody starts doing it, it is kind of OK.”

Top image: Fidget Spinner. (Public Domain)

Meghna's picture

Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the healthcare, medical and scientific domains; areas of specialization include scientific content creation, medical editing, blogging in science and biotechnology, with a fair knowledge in grant writing and scientific journalism. Also, she is passionate about travel blogging, practicing yoga, volunteering in non-profits for education. Read More

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