Nearly every day parents come in looking for fidget toys for their children. Teachers or therapists have recommended they find something to occupy the child’s hands so the child’s brain can focus in school.
It turns out children aren’t the only ones to benefit from having fidgets to play with. Far from idle diversion, fiddling with desk gadgets can have an impact on cognitive functioning, improving focus or sparking fresh thinking or faster learning on the job, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
The story describes research conducted by a doctoral student at NYU’s engineering school. When people feel restless or confined by computer work, they may get physical stimulation and stress release from playing with a small sandbox, stretching and bending a Slinky, clicking a pen, or shaping and rolling putty.
That, in fact, is how Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty got started. In 1998, designing websites for a living, Aaron convinced his colleagues to chip in and buy 100 pounds of bouncing putty. “Squeezing, stretching, and shaping…they didn’t even realize it was there! As it melted their stress away, their creative potential was unleashed!” he says on his website. People began stopping by his desk to buy more putty, he began adding colors, and the rest is history.
Participants in the NYU study mention benefits they get from squeezing, stroking, flipping, twirling, stretching, clicking or fiddling with everyday objects.
Eni Puzzles, chew toys, Wikki Stix, Wacky Tracks, Whatz’it, Sands Alive, squeeze toys, Pop Toobs, Posh Balls and rubber band balls are some of the many fidgety toys that kids and adults alike find calming.
The NYU study is one of many in the evolving field of research called “embodied cognition,” or how physical movement and the environment may shape cognitive functioning. “Some studies show fidgeting may also be a coping mechanism for restless energy, stimulating the brain enough so a person can focus on mundane tasks,” the WSJ article said.