State of unrest: Can fidgeting really help you concentrate?
Vladimir Godnik/Plainpicture/fStop By Christian Jarrett I WONDER whether you will stay completely still until you reach the end of this article. If you do, then perhaps I have done a good job – fidgeting, as you might expect, is a pretty reliable indicator of waning attention. But is there more to it? For those incessant pen-clickers, hair-twirlers and foot-tappers among us, the urge to fidget is irresistible. The popularity of the fidget spinner is a case in point: earlier this year, variants of it made up every one of the top 10 bestselling toys on Amazon. Many of these gadgets come with claims they can help children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), anxiety or autism. Some people say fidgeting aids focus, or could even boost efforts to lose weight. So should we all harness the powers of restlessness? Our interest in the subject has a long history. In 1885, the polymath Francis Galton – a cousin of Darwin – found himself in such a tedious meeting that he measured the amount of fidgeting in the audience, publishing his findings in Nature. Freud ascribed deeper meaning to fidgeting, interpreting it as a manifestation of sexual problems. And then in the 1950s, when “hyperkinetic disorder” – later ADHD – came to prominence, fidgeting began to be seen as a pathological symptom. Underlying the claim that fidget spinners can help boost attention in those with ADHD, especially children, is the idea that the disorder is associated with chronic under-arousal at a neural level. This hampers mental performance,