Study finds using a fidget spinner can impair memory and attention

New research indicates that fidget spinners can be harmful to learning in classroom settings. The study was recently published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

“A few years ago, the discussion about the efficacy of fidget objects was suddenly a national conversation. In light of this debate, some of my students asked me if I thought fidget spinners might help with classroom learning and attention. So, I decided to gather some data to help answer this question,” explained study author Julia Soares, a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In two experiments, the researchers found that fidget spinners could negatively affect memory and attention.

In the first experiment, 98 undergraduate students watched a 15-minute educational video lecture on baking bread while either using a fidget spinner or not using a fidget spinner. In addition, half of the participants not using a fidget spinner were randomly assigned to watch the lecture while sitting near someone using a fidget spinner.

A fill-in-the blank memory test showed that participants who used fidget spinners answered significantly fewer questions correctly about the material covered in the video. Participants who used fidget spinners were also more likely to report “zoning out” and having difficulty staying on task while watching the video.

Participants who were sitting near someone using a fidget spinner, however, did not appear to be affected.

The researchers then conducted the experiment again. However, this time around they specifically recruited 48 undergraduates who believed that fidget spinners could help them focus in class.

But the results were the same.

“Contrary to the claims made by fidget-spinner retailers, our participants’ learning was not aided by their use of a fidget spinner while learning. In fact, when participants used fidget spinners while watching video lectures, they performed worse on a memory test of the lectured content relative to when they didn’t use fidget spinners,” Soares told PsyPost.

“This effect was observed across two experiments. Our participants also reported being aware of the deleterious effects of using a fidget spinner on their learning but were apparently unwilling or unable to compensate for the distraction caused by using the fidget spinner.”

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“These data were collected from a population of college students, so they cannot speak to how fidget spinners might differently affect individuals with, for example, learning disabilities. Still, these findings suggest that students who are having trouble focusing in class might want to try evidence-based treatments over fidget spinners,” Soares explained.

“It’s also worth noting that people use fidget objects for many other uses than aiding classroom learning. Our intention with this paper was not to imply that fidget objects can’t be useful. Additional studies should investigate how using fidget objects might affect things like emotion regulation and boredom reduction.”

The study, “Putting a negative spin on it: Using a fidget spinner can impair memory for a video lecture“, was authored by Julia S. Soares and Benjamin C. Storm.