Do Fidget Spinners Really Help You Focus?

Fidget spinners exploded in popularity in 2017, touted as a tool to help people (especially children) focus and relieve stress. But do these little twirling toys actually help concentration, or are they just a fad distraction? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Proponents of fidget spinners claim they can help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, anxiety, or other conditions where focus and fidgeting can be an issue. The idea is that having an object to play with in your hands gives a restless body an outlet, freeing up mental energy to concentrate. There’s also something relaxing and zen-like about watching the rhythmic spinning.

On the other hand, critics argue fidget spinners are mostly just toys and provide little real benefit. They say it’s placebo effect and marketing hype. Some teachers have banned them from classrooms as unnecessary distractions.

So what does the research actually say? There have only been a handful of small studies looking specifically at fidget spinners to date. But there is decades of evidence around fidgeting in general. Let’s review some key findings:

  • A 2017 study had a group of adults perform concentration tasks while using a fidget spinner versus a control group with no spinner. There was no difference in attention between the groups. The spinners did not help or hurt focus.
  • A 2018 study of kids ages 8-12 with ADHD found fidget spinners did not improve their symptoms over standard fidget toys like squeeze balls. Spinners did show benefits for kids with autism, however.
  • A 2019 study found students tapping a fidget spinner required more brain activity to complete an assignment and took longer, indicating it hurt focus.
  • Research shows doodling and fidgeting can help focus during boring or monotonous tasks, engaging just enough brain activity to maintain concentration. But too much can become distracting.
  • Simple, quiet fidget toys appear most helpful for focus. Noisy or visually distracting toys are more likely to pull attention away from tasks.
  • Studies on kids with ADHD show allowing short sensory breaks to fidget can improve sustained attention during long classes.
  • For ADHD, research shows movement in general helps symptoms. But the type of movement matters. Structured exercise has more benefits than unstructured fidgeting.

So based on the current limited research, it seems fidget spinners and toys are not miraculous focus tools, but not completely useless either. They may provide a modest benefit for some people, depending on the individual and context. Here are some tips for making the most of fidget toys:

  • Try different options to find what works best for you or your child’s needs. Every brain is different.
  • Use them for short sensory breaks, then put them away to sustain attention. Find a balance.
  • Be aware of noise or visual distractions. Silent, subtle toys are less disruptive in quiet settings.
  • For kids with attention difficulties, pair with other strategies like minimizing distractions, taking movement breaks, and providing structure. Fidgets alone are unlikely to “cure” attention issues.
  • For neurotypical people, fidget toys may help concentration during boring tasks, but can become a distraction during cognitively demanding work.
  • Focus is complex, involving many factors. Don’t expect any single tool to be a silver bullet.

While the hype may have gotten ahead of the science, fidget toys do appear helpful for some. But more research is still needed to clarify how and when they improve concentration. Try them out mindfully and see if they work for you situation. Finding the right fidgeting approach takes experimentation.