Fidgeting could make students more productive

by TYLER YORK//Online Editor


I am always fidgeting.

I twitch, bounce a leg, click a pen, or otherwise repeat some sort of tiny, thoughtless action hundreds of times a day. I used to think this was just an unfortunate quirk of my physiology, that my body was building up this nervous energy caused by boredom, anxiety, excitement or some other unknown process and it was simply being expressed in this annoying, sometimes explosively irritating, way. I didn’t necessarily think I was alone in this unconscious behavior, but I never would have considered any of it beneficial.

Then the Fidget Cube opened my eyes. Now I think we should all make an effort to fidget more.

The term “fidgeting” has recently come to prominence as a catchall for these tiny, nervous behaviors. It’s only in the past few years that both psychologists and the public have started grouping these actions into a single category. Before that, it was all just considered random, bothersome tics, or, in some extreme cases, a side effect of ADHD. So, in general terms, fidgeting is exactly what it sounds like: absentmindedly playing with something.

When I first heard about the concept of fidgeting as something other than an act that annoyed everyone in my immediate vicinity, I was dubious. I had stumbled across an article talking about something upcoming on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter called the Fidget Cube—a tiny pocket-sized plastic cube, with every face ornamented with different fiddly knobs and buttons and twisty things. It was strangely adorable in its simplicity, and I knew I wanted to learn more.

I ended up backing the Fidget Cube on Kickstarter, and what followed is now one of the top 10 most-funded projects in all of Kickstarter history—with more than $6 million contributed by more than 150,000 backers. I’ve had mine for about a week at the time of writing, and while it hasn’t been “life-changing” by any means, I feel like I’m well on my way to rising through the fidgeting ranks.

A number of other fidget toys and devices have cropped up in the wake of the Fidget Cube’s massive popularity. One of the more popular categories of toys is something called a fidget spinner—commonly a two-or-three-ended plastic toy a few inches long with a skateboard bearing in the middle, allowing the fidget-cubeperson handling it to satisfyingly spin it rapidly between their fingers. These toys have also become pretty popular in the 3d printing community, due to their customizable nature.

So the obvious question is: why would anybody want one of these things, especially if the only purpose they serve is to get on the nerves of one’s neighbors? It turns out fidgeting may be much more than just childish, hyperactive movement.

According to a 2016 article published in the American Physiological Journal, researchers found fidgeting can actually prevent damage to blood vessels caused by long-term sitting, which is becoming more common in a world where people sit in front of computers all day for work. Another study in the Journal of At-Risk Issues showed that middle-schoolers given stress balls were able to focus more easily on learning when they had something to fiddle with.

Obviously, these are just a few pieces of research, and can’t speak to everyone’s learning styles or health needs. But it seems to me there’s definitely something to this fidgeting craze that’s on the upswing. Ever since I got my cube, I’m now a big fan of not only passive fidgeting, but actively picking it up to keep my hands busy while reading, or brainstorming.

It could just be the excitement of having a new toy, but it seems to be helping quite a bit. Or, at the very least, I’m having fun playing with it, and that in itself should count for something.

So I say the next time you’re in class and the person next to you is bouncing a leg or clicking a pen, try not to get annoyed. Maybe they’re just trying to pay better attention.

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