Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fidget spinners are not a miraculous cure for anything

It seems that fidget spinners are still all the rage, although I have still to actually witness anyone using one. They are just this year's fad toy - there's one most years - but there is a substantial coterie out there who really believe some of the claims that have been made for them, such as that they are good psychological tools for the relief of stress and anxiety, and that they can even help sufferers from ADHD or autism. In fact, they are a big distraction for most children, and some schools are even banning them.
A video by clinical psychologist David Anderson, from the Child Mind Institute who specializes in ADHD and other behavioural disorders, makes no bones about it: he says they are just toys and not a treatment. According to Anderson, "they have about as much scientific evidence for stress relief or for treatment of anxiety and ADHD as a pet rock ... fidget spinners have absolutely no scientific studies behind them, showing any sort of effectiveness in treating this ... there is no psychologically recommended gadget". Sounds pretty definitive to me.
It made me wonder, though, why do we fidget? It seems that, like most physiological phenomena, there is actually a point to fidgeting. But, like most physiological phenomena, it's not simple. According to one theory, fidgeting may be a self-regulation mechanism to help us boost or lower our attention levels as needed (in which case, suppressing it may be a bad idea). Another theory suggests that fidgeting may be a carefully programmed response that helps us unconsciously maintain our weight (apparently, fidgeting can burn between 100 and 800 additional calories a day). Yet another idea is that fidgeting represents a behavioural coping mechanism for stress (studies have shown that fidgeting and other "displacement behaviours" can improve performance during stressful times).
As so often with these things, the real reason may be a combination of all of these, and may even vary depending on what is required at the time. Either way, we really don't need a toy to fidget for us, and fidget spinners are not a miraculous cure for ADHD or anything else.

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