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UCSC researchers study effectiveness of fidget device

fidget spinner
Shalu Sharma / CC BY-SA 2.0

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) A new study is looking at how effective fidget spinners, fidget cubes and other devices really are.

UC Santa Cruz researchers and the UC Davis MIND Institute are looking into whether the devices really help increase focus and reduce anxiety in adults with ADHD, and they say it is particularly relevant as people adjust to working from home and anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are expected to be paying attention to virtual meetings for hours, and anything you can do to help improve people’s attention, alertness and emotional regulation could be helpful,” said Julie Schweitzer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UC Davis MIND Institute and the project's lead investigator.

To study it, researchers are recruiting 110 adults with ADHD to perform attention and memory tasks. They will also be shown film clips intended to cause an emotional response. Researchers will look at their physical movements, such as fidgeting, and will give some of them a "smart" fidget ball designed at UC Santa Cruz.

The "smart" fidget ball created by Isbister's team

The ball measures movements- such as squeezes, strokes or taps- using internal sensors, according to the team. The data will then be transmitted to a computer for analysis.

“The sensors measure not only when someone touches them, but how much pressure is used,” said co-investigator Katherine Isbister, a professor of computational media at UCSC’s Baskin School of Engineering whose team created the device.

The team will also look at changes in heart rate and physical affects by using an electrocardiogram device and video taping them.

UCSC said artificial intelligence will be used to analyze the results and predict which behaviors with the fidget ball are effective and could potentially be used as therapies.

“Our end goal is really audacious,” said Schweitzer. “Eventually, we’d like to mass produce fidget devices that interact with a smart watch that would give the individual cues to let them know it was time to tap or squeeze the ball to help modulate their attention or emotions.”

Schweitzer said her earlier research showed that fidgeting without a device helped children with ADHD. The goal of this project is to find out whether adding a device could be more helpful.

Health / Santa Cruz / Santa Cruz County / Top Stories

Avery Johnson

Avery Johnson is the Digital Content Director at KION News Channel 5/46.



  1. You know what works better than fidget spinner? Staying busy, working hard and using your ADHD as the God given gift it is, it’s like a turbo charger for humans. The system gave it a label and attempts to medicate the “problem”, something I don’t agree with although as a youth if the drugs were available I probably would have turn into a Concerta drug addict. In my opinion ADHD drugs make you a bat shit crazy Zombie. And just so you know….Concerta and Meth are functionally the same thing. Trust me…I know. If not for the mind probing video watching, I might have been tempted to let them test a 60 year old ADHD dude that actually made it work for him.

  2. If UCSC has the funding to waste their time studying if masturbation suppression (the term psychiatrists would give ‘fidget spinners’) is valuable during stressful times; or if watching tv more, or playing cards, eating comfort food, scratching your behind or driving around the block is, then we need to DEFUND UCSC immediately. And I am dead serious.

    1. @Jalbert, Many times in a graduate (postgraduate) program you have a bunch of students that need to do a thesis, so often times you do have a bunch of odd and seemingly useless thesis projects, and you often have sponsored research projects where a company or organization needs research done and it is often less expensive to use existing labs and infrastructure, professors, research associates and others to do the work for you. I obviously had a problem with this research because I don’t like the direction that society has taken with ADHD folks. They study, the medicate, they label and they judge. I understand the logic behind some of this particular testing….how to deal with the changing work environment where often you no longer have a slave driver cracking the whip and keeping you on task, you now have Zoom meetings, top heavy administrative processes and more importantly, not a lot of on hand supervision. That could be an issue for folks with a short attention spans.
      But fidget spinner ADHD research? Some research is best done without spinning it into a news article, they could have simply reported the need to research how ADHD folks handle the new telework environments and how would we as a society better address keeping them focused on required task. It’s almost like doing research on space travel and oh by the way, we are going to study Tonka Toys and pet rocks to determine if that could be useful to counter boring hours in space. Not a very classy selling point for research.

  3. @Frankie
    Funny, when I was a kid, there was no such thing as ADHD. We played outside til we dropped, the school principal made it clear you paid attention or got smacked, our dads had cajones and we sat still when we were told to. One spanking cured me of THAT issue. Now they medicate kids whose personalities do not fit the classroom, lead by some eunuch who is not allowed to discipline the class.

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