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What is a Fidget Spinner? Why the Fidget Toy is Taking Over the UK

The fidget spinner is the latest new craze sweeping the UK. But why is it so popular?

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

Fidget spinners have experienced an exponential rise in popularity over the past month or two, with kids, students and even adults hopping onto the bandwagon with the new fad. But while the fidget spinner is the latest craze to sweep the UK, there’s still a great deal of confusion about how that’s managed to happen, and why so many people are playing with the little devices. With that being said, let’s clear a few things up.

What is a fidget spinner?

A fidget spinner is a small device designed to help those of us who fidget, i.e. everyone, by giving us a tool to distract our hands with. Fidget spinners generally take the form of a three-pronged device with a circular pad in the middle, which contains a bearing. This pad is then held while the prongs are spun around by the user. That’s all there is to it, and considering that these things are sold for as cheap as $5, you shouldn’t really have expected anything more.

 

How long have fidget spinners been around?

A popular but debunked origin story for the fidget spinner is that they were first patented in 1997, after chemical engineer trainee Catherine Hettinger developed spinning disc toys in order to help kids release their “pent-up energy.” Though these toys were also created with the intention of providing a distraction for their users, they differed in terms of their design and, though comparable, are not the same as the current wave of fidget spinners that were introduced in 2016. Hettinger discussed her affiliation with the fidget toys with Bloomberg News: “Let’s just say that I’m claimed to be the inventor,” she said. “You know, ‘Wikipedia claims,’ or something like that.”

Also: 5 Best Fidget Toys to Help You Concentrate And Be More Productive

The fidget spinner in its current form was first noticed by media outlets in late 2016, before becoming notably popular in early 2017. The interest in fellow fidget toy the Fidget Cube contributed to its success, with both working to create an increased market for distraction devices.

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Do fidget spinners actually help with ADHD and anxiety?

A recurring claim made by companies selling fidget spinners is that they can help those with ADHD, anxiety disorders and even PTSD. However, these claims have often been deemed unsubstantial, with retailers criticised for partaking in this marketing spin despite the lack of research into the toys’ alleged health benefits.

Speaking to NPR, clinical psychologist and Duke University professor Scott Kollins said: “If their description says specifically that this can help for ADHD, they’re basically making false claims because these have not been evaluated in proper research.”  He continued: “It’s important for parents and teachers who work with kids who have ADHD to know that there are very well studied and documented treatments that work, and that they’re out there, so there’s not really quick and easy fixes like buying a toy. It’s important that people don’t get into trying these fads when we do have treatments that can help these kids.”

However, the presence of a distraction has been proven to alleviate stress, and given that this is the fidget spinner’s primary function there are multiple first-hand accounts you can read online of users reporting that the toy has helped alleviate their anxiety. The jury’s still out on whether they can truly help those with ADHD and PTSD, though.

 

Why are fidget spinners so popular?

Fads typically follow a set criteria: they’re cheap, they’re easy to get a hold of and they’re just pointless enough that adult buzzkills will complain about them. Fidget spinners tick all of the boxes, with them being ready to purchase everywhere from toy shops through to newsagents, they don’t break the bank and also only have one relatively dull function. Like all fads the spinners also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with some being equipped with flashing lights, others having additional bearings in order to spin for lengthier periods of time, while there are even some high-end model created using more expensive materials than the typical plastic builds of the more common spinners. As such there’s plenty of room for children to show off their new spinner to their friends, before they inevitably fall by the wayside within the next few months as the next fad comes along.

Featured Image Credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images