Do fidget spinners and cubes help kids pay attention?

There are fidget spinners and fidget cubes. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, these hot new toys—originally intended as an aide for kids with ADHD—have been the obsession of every child in every school across the nation.

A fidget spinner is a small ceramic or metal toy that can be spun between your fingers. A fidget cube is approximately three times the size of dice and is made of similar material as the spinner. It has things such as buttons, gears, and switches around the six sides that allow for hours of fidgeting fun.  

So why the controversy with the spinners? The claims that fidget spinners help kids pay attention are true…However, they’re paying to the fidget spinner itself, not to their teacher in class.

With their fun colors, cool lights, and pleasant, white noise sound, they create a type of engaging trance. One might even say they’re addicting. You can spin them on the table, bounce them between your thumb and pointer finger, and, if you’re really good (Yes, this is a challenge!), you can toss them from one hand to the other. Not only can you play with them in person, but you can research tricks and improve your game. As a matter of fact, just one YouTube video on fidget spinners, already has 2,048,081 views. Why are they so popular? Well, it comes down to the brain science of addiction.

An addiction is a craving for an object, loss of control over the use of an object, and continued use despite poor consequences. Sound like any kid you know? In the brain, these toys likely stimulate the pleasure pathway. With addicting behaviors dopamine is released in this pathway at an intense level. Dopamine is a chemical in our brains associated with pleasure. Soon, the brain learns and remembers this great feeling and connects it with a strong, happy emotion. In the case of the fidget spinner, the result is that a child wants to spin, craves spinning, and continues to spin despite the negative consequence of getting in trouble.

Really, fidget spinners provide similar stimulation to what kids with attention problems get from video games. Although they provide an amazing dopamine rush and enhance social engagement, they’re just a fun fad. Spinners do little for improving kids ability to attend to a teacher or parent. As a matter of fact, they actually impede it. As my father, a teacher of over 30 years said recently, “This too shall pass.”

Fidget cubes, however, work differently. Like other therapeutic fidget toys, they can be just as colorful as spinners, but they’re not as stimulating to all the senses. They do allow for some fidgeting, which provides kids with the ability to control their nervous energy with fine motor movement. Control over movement actually requires a bit more power from the brain. This type of activity engages the brain in a way that arouses the attention and control systems. Toys like fidget cubes have the potential to arouse the brain in this way without over stimulating it like fidget spinners do. This can actually give kids a way to get their brains ready to learn.

The moral of the story is this. If you want to help your child control his mind a bit so he can attend to his teacher, get a fidget cube. If you want a fun, engaging, socially acceptable way to connect you with your kids or your kids with their peers, get a fidget spinner. Just clear your schedule for the next few days. You’ll get a little addicted!