You know fidget spinners are a big deal when a reputable publication like The Atlantic runs a story with the following headline: “The Fidget Spinner Explains the World.”
And if you weren’t convinced that fidget spinners are frantically twirling their way to the top of the non-electronic toy addiction, there are these two facts we read in an article by Fox News:
- More than 200 million fidget spinners have been shipped to U.S. retailers
- Fidget spinners are a $500-million-dollar-a-year industry
That’s right: Fidget spinners have become, in a matter of months, an industry worth half a billion dollars.
What is it about these simple devices that has made them such a viral sensation among kids and adults?
Ian Bogost, a reporter for The Atlantic, took a more philosophical approach to explain our fascination with them.
“In the case of the fidget spinner, the temporary victory of joining in the commentary also offers succor. In an uncertain global environment biting its nails over new threats of economic precarity, global autocracy, nuclear war, planetary death, and all the rest,” Bogost wrote, “the fidget spinner offers the relief of a non-serious, content-free topic that harms no one. At a time when so many feel so threatened, aren’t handheld, low-friction tops the very thing we fight for?”
We’re not going as far as to say that fidget spinners are an esoteric cure for our deepest fears and worries.
We are willing to say, as we did in the introduction, that they’re insanely popular and there are several different reasons for that: some practical, some psychological.
In our guide to fidget spinners, we’re going to give you a complete breakdown of:
- Why they’re popular
- Who invented them
- How they work
- Where you can buy the best fidget spinners
- Could they help with with ADHD
- Why they may or may not relieve stress
Why Are Fidget Spinners So Popular?
To understand why these toys are so popular, we talked with Dr. Joel Best, a sociologist and professor at the University of Delaware.
Best recently wrote an article about fidget spinners that was featured on CNN.com. In that article, he talked about the role of toys in society and why some may be more popular than others.
Fidget spinners – and all toys – play a role in shaping how a child views the world, Best said.
“Sociologists have always been interested in toys because they assume that play is an important form of socialization and how to grow up and be part of the world,” Best told us. “I think that toys let you sort of experiment with all sorts of ideas with how the world works.”
Another reason why kids love toys, Best said, is that they allow kids to have something that’s theirs – it’s a piece of independence.
“As you grow up, you increasingly feel tension of the dependency you have on the adults around you and the sense that you’re big and you want to be independent,” Best said. “One of the things we do is do something different than what adults do and we carve out our own space for our identity.”
That being said, Best wasn’t able to pinpoint why fidget spinners have become the new hula-hoop, yo-yo, pog or any of the other dozens of simple toys that seemed to dazzle nearly every kid in the country at one time or another.
He did strike a guess, though, and it’s one that we think is pretty legitimate.
“The thing is that people collect stuff. Lots of people do this,” Best said. “Why are fidget spinners doing so well? They’re cheap. It’s within a kid’s budget. It’s something probably just as popular with girls as boys, which most toys aren’t.”
Who Invented the Fidget Spinner?
Catherine Hettering, a woman who currently resides in Florida, is credited with the invention of the fidget spinner.
U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian did a relatively extensive story on Hettinger, who is now, according to their article, struggling to get by on part-time engineering work.
The bittersweet twist to the story is that she owned the patent for the toy from 1997 to 2005 but had to give up the patent because she couldn’t afford the $400 renewal fee.
Now that fidget spinners have taken off, it seems only natural that Hettinger would feel regret over having to let her patent go.
“Several people have asked me: ‘Aren’t you really mad?’ But for me I’m just pleased that something I designed is something that people understand and really works for them,” Hettinger said. “There’s just a lot of circumstances in modern life when you’re boxed in, you’re cramped in, and we need this kind of thing to de-stress. It’s also fun.”
We looked at the original patent that Hettering won in 1997 – a link to it was included in the Guardian article.
In reality, Hettering’s invention wasn’t quite the fidget spinner you know today. Rather, it was a plastic disc with a half-sphere in the middle. The angles of the half-sphere and the weight distribution of the toy meant you could spin it on your finger.
Her design didn’t include the ball bearings that are the hallmark of the fidget spinner craze.
Despite the significant differences in design, Hettering’s “finger spinner” shares the same mission as the fidget spinner.
“It is designed to be spun on the finger to provide enjoyment and entertainment for adults and children,” Hettering’s patent reads.
How Do Fidget Spinners Work?
Fidget spinners work in much the same way that the finger spinner’s original design intended.
You hold the spinner in between two fingers, flip one of the spinner’s edges and the devices low-friction central ball bearing spins and spins … and spins.
Fidget spinners can do their thing on a table, a finger or pretty much any flat surface. As they spin, they make a soft whirring sound.
Fidget spinners have various shapes and sizes, with some only having two wings while others have three or four.
Materials come in metal and plastic and prices range from $5 or $6 for a plastic version and more than $100 for sets of multiple metal fidget spinners.
Fidget Spinners: Where to Buy Them
According to an article from Live Science, Google searches for “fidget spinners” were sparse this past December and then skyrocketed since January, a data-driven indication of retailer’s mad dash to fill their shelves and warehouses with hundreds of different types of fidget spinners.
At the time of publishing, two of the more popular retail searches were “fidget spinners Walmart” and “fidget spinners Amazon.”
Best Fidget Spinners at Walmart
A search for “fidget spinners on Walmart’s website will get you more than 2,200 results.
We ordered those search results by ratings, then tried to come up with a list of fidget spinners that received, at the time of publishing, more than 5 reviews.
Based on that criteria, here’s a list of five Walmart fidget spinners with great reviews:
|YIPA Aluminum Fidget Spinner||$7.61||4.3 stars, 11 reviews|
|YIPA Martheroll Ceramic Fidget Spinner||$7.44||5 stars, 43 reviews|
|Hand Spinner Tri Fidget Desk Toy by Lucky Flower||$5.39||4.8 stars, 16 reviews|
|EDC Fidget Toy Tri Hand Spinner||$11.87||5 stars, 12 reviews|
|Mupoo Tri-Spinner Fidget Toy||$5.07-$5.45||5 stars, 6 reviews|
The YIPA Martheroll seems to bet the best choice here according to what your fellow consumers have said.
The most recent review of this fidget spinner heaped praise on the product.
“This particular spinner is black with electric blue weights. I was able to keep it spinning for nearly a solid minute before it lost momentum,” wrote the reviewer, whose username was Alexander. “These may be a trend at the moment, but as a teacher and a mom, I have no problem with them at all.”
Best Fidget Spinners on Amazon
Amazon is another popular website for buying fidget spinners. In fact, their products tended to have far more reviews that what we found on Walmart.com.
We applied the same methodology we used for Walmart’s fidget spinners, identifying Amazon fidget spinners with a high number of reviews and good ratings:
|Raging Fidget Spinner||$14.99||5 stars, 98 reviews|
|Labvon Fidget Spinner||$6.99||5 stars, 88 reviews|
|MUPATER Fidget Spinner||$8.99||5 stars,91 reviews|
|Maeffort Hand Spinner||$21.99||5 stars, 61 reviews|
|Titanium Ultraproof Fidget Spinner||$15.19||5 stars, 214 reviews|
When we sorted the Amazon fidget spinners by reviews, the top result was the Raging Fidget Spinner, which, according to its product description, comes with a limited 1-year warranty if you purchase the spinner directly from OVS Accessories.
It was unclear from the product’s description if buying the fidget spinner from OVS through Amazon counted as a “directly from OVS Accessories” purchase.
One of the most recent reviews of the product was positive.
“Its awesome daughter loves it,” a reviewer named Firefighter4life wrote. “Works great spins great and fast shipping. Would buy again for sure. If you want a nice spinner get it.”
Fidget Spinners & ADHD: Do They Help?
As we researched pricing and reviews of fidget spinners on Walmart and Amazon, we noticed that there were multiple claims that fidget spinners could help with ADHD.
For example, the first result of a fidget spinner search on Amazon based on reviews was the Raging Fidget Spinner. The product’s title says: “Raging Fidget Spinner – Perfect for Anxiety – ADHD – Depression – Long Lasting Fidget Spinner – Strong Fidget Spinner.”
Here’s a quick list of similar product titles we found for fidget spinners on Walmart and Amazon:
- Peralng Fidget Spinner EDC ADHD Focus Toy
- Fast EDC Fidget toy for Increased Focus, Stress Relief, ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety
- EDC Fidget Hand Spinner Alloy Finger Desk Toy Focus ADHD Autism Adult Kid Gift
- Fidget Spinners Helps Relieve Stress Relieve Your Stress, Anxiety, ADHD, and Boredom Handheld and Table Top Design
We were curious as to whether or not fidget spinners were a legitimate form of therapy for children and adults with ADHD, so we reached out to Dr. Tracy P. Alloway, an author as well as an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Florida.
Fidget Spinners Don’t Treat or Cure ADHD
Dr. Alloway has extensive experience working with learning methods for children with ADHD. Her thoughts on fidget spinners’ ability to help children focus? It’s a great toy, but it doesn’t help with ADHD.
“I think fidget spinners are the new yo-yos, which is a fantastic toy because it gets (kids) away from their screen and gets them with their peers and it gives that joy of engaging in something. If you look at it from that perspective it’s fantastic,” Alloway said. “If you’re trying to seek it out for a cure? Definitely not for ADHD.”
You see, Alloway said, children with ADHD have an overactive motor cortex, which means their brain is telling them to move.
“The difference is that, in individuals with ADHD, those individuals are actually neurologically wired to move which is different than the average individual,” Alloway said. “They have an over active motor cortex telling them they need to move more…the shaking of the legs and moving around isn’t because they want to be disobedient, it’s their brain telling them to move.”
So, while product titles may make you think that fidget spinners can work wonders for children or adults with ADHD, there’s really no science to back it up.
In fact, the idea that sitting and watching a device could actually be a positive thing for people who are wired to move much more than the average individual just doesn’t make sense.
“If there are any benefits of the movement associated with fidget spinners, it will be mitigated by the fact that your visual focus is being kept by the fidget spinner and not on what you should be learning instead,” she said.
It’s an issue, Alloway said, of watching rather than moving.
“It’s a visual input rather than a motor output,” she said. “The visual is them watching it move rather than the motor output of squirming and moving around and satisfying the cortex need.”
The Error of Generalization: Fidget Spinners Don’t Create Multifaceted Focus
Another issue with fidget spinners? The misconception of focus.
The thinking goes like this:
- Kids with ADHD have a hard time focusing
- Fidget spinners command focus
- Therefore, kids learn how to focus by playing with fidget spinners
This is an error of generalization, Alloway said: Just because kids will focus on fidget spinners doesn’t mean they’ll focus on everything else, too.
“That’s the question: generalizability. If the child is able to focus on the fidget spinner does that mean they can transfer that focus to listening to a parent or teacher, or reading a book,” Alloway asked. “I think that’s definitely an open research question.”
Alloway went on to note a study that found that students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder actually benefitted in a school setting by using stress balls, those squishy orbs you squeeze in your to relieve stress.
The key difference between fidget spinners and stress balls is that stress balls are a physical, motor-oriented tool, while fidget spinners are very much a visual tool.
“You have that motor output because you can squeeze the ball but you focus your attention on the teacher or the book,” Alloway said. “But, the fidget spinner is different because you’re mesmerized by the spinning motion and your visual input is now consumed by that rather than your teacher or reading.”
Are Fidget Spinners an Anti-Stress or Anti-Anxiety Tool?
While Dr. Alloway says that fidget spinners’ power over the symptoms of ADHD isn’t proven, these toys can definitely help people dealing with anxiety or stress.
The key, she said, isn’t so much the toy itself but the fact that it makes us focus on one thing rather than all the circumstances and situations causing us emotional distress.
“I think in the sense of stress and anxiety, although there isn’t direct evidence, the argument could be made that there’s a meditative aspect to watching it spin,” Alloway said.
The fidget spinner’s meditative powers are similar, she said, to mantras and breathing exercises that make you focus on one phrase or breathing rhythm.
This simple act of focus helps relieve anxiety – it acts as a method of escape.
“With anxiety, the individual is feeling overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. The fidget spinner allows you to disconnect from the stimuli … leading to your stress,” Alloway said. “You are mentally removing yourself from a situation of stress or anxiety and you’re allowing your tension to be taken up by that single object.”
Dr. Alloway also noted that fidget spinners act like a placebo – for some people, the toy works because you think it works.
Our Final Thoughts on What Parents Need to Know About Fidget Spinners
Fidget spinners are unquestionably the hottest toy of the year, as sales have topped 500 million and retailers have ordered more than 200 million of them.
How fidget spinners work is simple enough. You hold the toy between two fingers and use your other free hand to spin it. The low-friction ball bearings allow the spin to last for a considerable amount of time.
Florida resident Catherine Hettinger is credited with inventing the fidget spinner, although her original designs looked more like Saturn cut in half rather than the ball-bearings based fidget spinners dominating the market today.
Although Hettinger is the supposed inventor, she doesn’t earn any money from fidget spinners because she gave up the patent in 2005.
Amazon and Walmart are two common places to buy fidget spinners, although, based on the number of reviews we saw, Amazon is by far the more popular site.
There is a significant number of fidget spinners on Amazon and Walmart that indicate their products can help with ADHD, anxiety and stress.
However, based on our conversation with Dr. Tracy P. Alloway, we believe that science has yet to prove that fidget spinners can provide kids and adults with ADHD any real focus benefits.
On the other hand, there’s proof that fidget spinners can help people with their anxiety and stress, if for nothing else than providing a single, visual object that can take their focus away from their overwhelming circumstances.