Amazon’s top-selling fidget spinner is being sold as a great gift for kids and adults with ADD, ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and even autism. So is there any truth to the fidget spinner claim? You might be surprised.
What is a fidget spinner?
For those unfamiliar with the latest trend in toys, a fidget spinner is a palm-size spinning toy that looks like a miniature alien spaceship. The about 3-inch gadget consists of three rounded blades that spin on a bearing located in its center.
Fidget spinners are made of various materials including plastic, copper, stainless steel, brass, or titanium. The toys can be purchased for about $10 dollars.
Who invented the spinning toy?
As for the inventor of the fidget spinner, Florida-based Catherine A. Hettinger registered a patent for a spinning toy that was designed to be “a novel device which is simple and easy to use” and “serves as a pleasant diversion to the user.”
Unfortunately, Hettinger let the patent for her spinning toy expire in 2005, and by the time the fidget spinner hit the market in spring of 2017, she had no legal or financial claim to the toy.
Fidget spinners increase dopamine in ADHD students?
Before the now trending toy hit the market big time, therapists working with students with learning disabilities used the gadget to meet their students’ need of “fidgeting” with their hands.
Of course, as therapists used fidget spinners to improve their students’ ability to focus, researchers explored the reasons behind the apparent successful gadget.
Since one of the causes for ADHD has been attributed to dopamine pathways in the brain, it took no time until media articles reported that fidget spinners increase students’ dopamine and thus ability to focus.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a chemical compound that has crucial functions in the brain and body. In the brain, dopamine is responsible for motor control, motivation, reinforcement, executive functions, and reward systems – all major components for students with ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.
Media reports stating that “scientists have observed that lower levels of dopamine are associated with symptoms of ADHD” and that ADHD medications like Adderall, Concerta, or Ritalin worked “by increasing dopamine and stimulating focus,” contributed to the marketing success of fidget spinners.
ADHD and the dopamine connection
Researchers agree that the way dopamine functions in the brain affects concentration, sustained attention, working memory, and motivational processes. However, it is the function (or how dopamine is being processed) not the level that determines its effectiveness.
Some scientists disagree with the widely held notion that ADHD is caused by low levels of dopamine or by a brain’s inability to process dopamine appropriately.
Professor Trevor Robbins, co-author of the study titled Imaging study shows dopamine dysfunction is not the main cause of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) stated that their “findings question the previously accepted view that major abnormalities in dopamine function are the main cause of ADHD in adult patients.
Robbins, who is the director at the University of Cambridge MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI), suggests that the main cause of ADHD in adults is due to “structural differences in the grey matter in the brain” – not dopamine function.
Fidget spinner review by our students
Our students reviewed Amazon’s best-rated fidget spinner, the Ultimate Fidget Spinner.
Since the description of the fidget spinner had a major spelling mistake in its description, “wiegth” instead of weight, we were rather critical whether the gadget could deliver what it promised:
“Ultimate Fidget Spinner, Hand Spinner Fidget Toy, The Must-Have Anti-Anxiety Office Toy For 2017, Cure for your nervous or bored energy, Up to 3 minutes spin, Smooth Surface, Balance Wieght”
To our surprise, all of our students enjoyed the Ultimate Fidget Spinner.
When we asked our students why they enjoyed the fidget spinner, they provided us with some interesting feedback.
Here is a list of the major review points our ADHD, OCD and students with anxiety made about the fidget spinner:
- It is always fun to try out something new.
- The rush you feel is similar to going shopping in a store and picking up something new (shopping also raises dopamine levels).
- Fidgeting with the spinner can get addictive, almost hypnotic.
- It is fun to be able to do something with your hands while you are mentally engaged with something else.
In regard to whether or not the fidget spinner really helped with symptoms of ADHD, OCD, or anxiety, our students said that they thought those claims were overrated and apparently a marketing point. Yes, the gadget did help to distract you for a while, but it was not a long-term solution for true learning disabilities.
During a debriefing session, our students mentioned that they thought that fidget spinners were so popular because the gadgets symbolized something important that is missing in today’s educational system – the opportunity to work with your hands as well as with your head.