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Fidget spinners are harmful to learning young minds, 3 different studies claim

Turns out that fidget spinners are not as beneficial as they are marketed, according to three different studies. (File Photo: KUTV)
Turns out that fidget spinners are not as beneficial as they are marketed, according to three different studies. (File Photo: KUTV)
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Turns out that fidget spinners are not as beneficial as they are marketed, according to three different studies.

The Hechinger Report - a national nonprofit education newsroom - reported on Monday that three studies (two of which were released in 2019) found more conclusive evidence that suggested the 2017 toy craze is actually "harmful to learning," arguing against using fidget spinners in the classroom, despite marketing claims that they're helpful.

Some schools across the country have already banned fidget spinners and associated products, claiming that while they may be helpful for children with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autism, the toys are distracting for other children. And now with the recent research, some are questioning whether these objects are really counterproductive for all children.

“They might not be called a fidget spinner but it’s the same thing,” Paulo Graziano, director of the S.E.L.F.-Regulation Laboratory at Florida International University, told the Hechinger Report. “Kids with ADHD get distracted. And having something that occupies their attention is likely going to take away from them listening to the teacher and doing their work.”

He continued:

Just like with the fidget spinner, you would think they could just spin it in their hands while looking up at the teacher... What we found is no, kids like to see it happening in their hands. So they’re looking down at whatever their hands are holding. If there’s a fun squeezy ball — I haven’t seen a study on it — but my impression is that they’re also looking down at it to see what’s going on.I would strongly recommend against any of these devices.

The newest study - "Putting a negative spin on it," which was published on Oct. 26, 2019, in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology - looked at what happened when researchers randomly gave fidget spinners to college students and had them watch educational videos in a laboratory setting at the University of California, Santa Cruz. According to this study, those who had fidget spinners in their hands scored worse on memory tests about the videos afterward. Additionally, even students who said they liked the toys and found them helpful suffered memory impairment, stated the Hechinger Report.

The report also found a German study from January 2019, which stated fidget spinners and doodling impaired memory. However, they found that stress balls didn't negatively impact memory but they still didn't help.

According to the Hechinger Report, Graziano was one of the first researchers to come out with a scientific study of fidget spinners - "To Fidget or Not to Fidget, That is the Question" - and published it in the Journal of Attention Disorders in 2018. He decided to study the toys when his daughter asked for one for Christmas. He was surprised by the marketing claims that they could help kids with ADHD, autism and anxiety. Graziano - an expert on early interventions for children with behavioral disorders such as ADHD - had never heard of these claims.

When he looked for the research, he told the Hechinger Report "there wasn't any" and "it was false marketing."

Graziano dug more into the marketing claims and found studies that showed that the fidgety movements kids with ADHD sometimes do with their bodies can help their cognitive performance in lab experiments, saying that the theory is that these excess body movements around the prefrontal cortex of their brains, jolting their brains to stay focused.

However, it's unknown why someone thought that a spinning object in their hands might have the same effect on the brain as their whole body's fidgeting.

Unlike the 2019 studies that didn't test fidget spinners on students with disabilities, Graziano specifically wanted to know if they helped younger children with ADHD. So, he randomly gave fidget spinners to preschoolers who were attending a summer treatment program. All the children were videotaped and researchers watched, coded and counted all the kids' behaviors. According to Graziano's study, the children who received fidget spinners had many more moments of inattentiveness.

"Attention was definitely impacted by the spinner in a bad way," he told the Hechinger Report.

He continued:

It was harmful. They were more inattentive.

However, Graziano found that those who did have the fidget spinners were less hyperactive at first - they didn't run around as much as the other campers who didn't have the toys. But, the behavioral advantage disappeared about four weeks later when he handed them out a second time to the same group of kids. At the end of the summer program, Graziano found that the two groups were equally hyperactive but their behavior improved during the treatment program.

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Overall, Graziano found that while there may be a "small behavioral benefit" to handing a restless child a fidget spinner - it's shortlived and outweighed by the harm to their attentiveness, stated the Hechinger Report.

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