Anew craze, ‘ fid­get spin­ners’ have been mar­keted as help­ing with ADHD, but ev­i­dence for this is scarce

Weekend Herald - - SCIENCE & TECH - Is what you touch, what you buy? Even dumb AI can help us

f you don’t have kids, you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of the fid­get spin­ner. But for those who do, you’ve prob­a­bly been dragged around a mall look­ing for this lat­est must- have gad­get.

A small colour­ful, pro­peller shaped de­vice, the fid­get spin­ner has three weighted prongs made from plas­tic and metal which cen­tre around a ball bear­ing pad.

The joy of the fid­get spin­ner is how fast the prongs can be spun be­tween the fin­ger smoothly and ef­fort­lessly while it re­leases a sat­is­fy­ing whirring sound.

If there is one pos­i­tive thing about these new toys, it’s that they are ac­tu­ally a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of science and engi­neer­ing in ac­tion.

Un­der­neath the cen­tral pad of a spin­ner is a bear­ing which con­sist of large and small flat sided cir­cu­lar rings.

Sand­wiched be­tween the rings are sev­eral ball bear­ings which lie within a groove at reg­u­larly spaced in­ter­vals. The ball bear­ings dis­perse the load and re­duce fric­tion which al­lows the spin­ner to ro­tate freely and smoothly. Orig­i­nally the same bear­ing sys­tem was used for the wheels of skate­boards and rollerblades.

The se­cret to the fid­get spin­ner is in the ad­di­tional weights on the ends of the prongs which add ki­netic force on to the bear­ing, help­ing the spin­ner to spin for longer pe­ri­ods of time.

Although they have been mar­keted by some as help­ful for peo­ple with anx­i­ety, autism or at­ten­tion- deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity disor­der ( ADHD) the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence sup­port­ing fid­get spin­ners is scarce.

The few stud­ies that have looked at how fid­get­ing could po­ten­tially help im­prove chil­dren’s at­ten­tion span have been fo­cused on young peo­ple di­ag­nosed with ADHD.

In those stud­ies, the stu­dents with ADHD did show some im­prove­ments in their ac­cu­racy when as­sessed on com­puter- based tasks when they fid­geted com­pared to when they didn’t.

How­ever, these stud­ies looked at nat­u­ral fid­get­ing by mea­sur­ing move­ments such as foot tap­ping rather than us­ing a hand­held fid­get de­vice.

The study also showed that sim­i­lar- aged chil­dren who had not been di­ag­nosed with ADHD did not per­form any dif­fer­ently when fid­get­ing com­pared to when they were sit­ting still, mean­ing the fid­get spin­ner is un­likely to pro­vide any at­ten­tion- span ben­e­fits to most chil­dren.

Spin­ning a plas­tic toy is very dif­fer­ent to tap­ping your feet, so it should be noted that any mar­ket­ing pitch us­ing a cor­re­la­tion be­tween im­proved at­ten­tion span and fid­get spin­ners are not backed up by solid sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

Science aside, the big­ger con­tro­versy sur­round­ing fid­get spin­ners today is around how to cope with so many in schools.

What is a quiet whirring sound for one spin­ning de­vice can trans­form into a ca­cophonous class­room cho­rus when many are spun at once and schools are start­ing to ban the toys. de­clas­si­fied data on high- al­ti­tude nu­clear tests have pro­vided a new look at the mech­a­nisms that set off up­sets in that sys­tem. Sci­en­tists say such in­for­ma­tion can help sup­port Nasa’s ef­forts to pro­tect satel­lites and as­tro­nauts from nat­u­ral ra­di­a­tion in space.

From 1958 to 1962, the US and USSR ran high- al­ti­tude tests, det­o­nat­ing ex­plo­sives up to 400km above the Earth, which mim­icked space weather ef­fects fre­quently caused by the sun.

A first blast wave ex­pelled an ex­pand­ing fire­ball of plasma, a hot gas of elec­tri­cally charged par­ti­cles. This cre­ated a ge­o­mag­netic dis­tur­bance. Some tests even cre­ated ar­ti­fi­cial ra­di­a­tion belts, charged par­ti­cles held in place by Earth’s mag­netic fields. The ar­ti­fi­cially trapped charged par­ti­cles re­mained in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers for weeks, and in one case, years.

These par­ti­cles, nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial, can af­fect elec­tron­ics on high- fly­ing satel­lites — some failed as a re­sult of the tests.

“If we un­der­stand what hap­pened in the some­what con­trolled and ex­treme event that was caused by one of these hu­man-

When the con­stant whirring is added to the in­ter­mit­tent noise of spin­ners be­ing dropped and ball­bear­ings rolling across the floor by stu­dents prac­tis­ing their spin­ning tricks un­der the table, fid­get spin­ners are fast be­com­ing class­room learn­ing dis­trac­tion cre­ators.

Ban­ning fid­get spin­ners in made events,” said Dr Phil Erick­son, of MIT’s Haystack Ob­ser­va­tory, “we can more eas­ily un­der­stand the nat­u­ral vari­a­tion in the nearspace en­vi­ron­ment”. Here’s some­thing to con­sider the next time you’re in the su­per­mar­ket: what you touch can af­fect what you buy. Ital­ian and Aus­trian sci­en­tists con­ducted ex­per­i­ments to show blind­folded peo­ple in­duced to grasp fa­mil­iar prod­ucts, like a bot­tle of Coke, un­der the guise of an­other task were later found to recog­nise it faster than other brands. The re­searchers say grasp­ing an ob­ject can en­able the “visual pro­cess­ing” and choice of class­rooms won’t stop the craze and the digital world has al­ready come up with vir­tual so­lu­tions by creat­ing fid­get spin­ner apps which pro­vide non- tac­tile but silent ver­sions of the toy.

As with hula hoops and Ru­bik’s cubes, fad toys re­ally take off when a sense of com­pe­ti­tion is added. With thou­sands of new fid­get spin­ner videos on­line, show­cas­ing stylish ways to throw and catch the spin­ning de­vices it looks like the on­line skills chal­lenge has al­ready started.

For those of us who are still old school and not spin­ning de­vices un­der the table, don’t fret — the orig­i­nal so­lu­tions for di­vert­ing bored en­ergy such as doo­dling or penclick­ing are still freely avail­able to us all. other seen prod­ucts of the same shape and size. “When you’re hold­ing your mobile phone in your hand, you may be more likely to choose a KitKat than a Snick­ers, be­cause the KitKat is shaped more like your phone,” said study co- au­thor As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Zachary Estes, of Mi­lan’s Boc­coni Univer­sity. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence doesn’t have to be su­per- so­phis­ti­cated to make a dif­fer­ence in your life. Yale Univer­sity re­searchers car­ried out ex­per­i­ments us­ing an on­line prob­lem­solv­ing game that re­quired groups of peo­ple to co- or­di­nate their ac­tions. When robotic play­ers with built- in de­fects were added into the mix, this boosted the per­for­mance of both hu­man groups ( by as much as 56 per cent) and in­di­vid­ual hu­man play­ers. Fur­ther, peo­ple whose per­for­mance im­proved when work­ing with the bots sub­se­quently in­flu­enced other hu­man play­ers to raise their game. The study au­thors say their find­ings could have big implications for a range of sit­u­a­tions in which peo­ple in­ter­act with AI, from bat­tle­fields to mo­tor­ways shared with au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. We treat “in­ferred” visual ob­jects gen­er­ated by the brain as more re­li­able than ex­ter­nal im­ages from the real world, sci­en­tists say.

To know when to cross the street, we usu­ally rely more on what we see than what we hear: but this can change on a foggy day.

In such sit­u­a­tions with a “blind spot”, the brain fills in the miss­ing in­for­ma­tion from its sur­round­ings, re­sult­ing in no ap­par­ent dif­fer­ence in what we see.

But while this fill- in is nor­mally ac­cu­rate enough, it’s mostly un­re­li­able be­cause no ac­tual in­for­ma­tion from the real world ever reaches the brain.

Af­ter a se­ries of ex­per­i­ments us­ing shutter glasses, Sci­en­tists at Ger­many’s Univer­sity of Osnabruck found that when choos­ing be­tween an ob­ject we gen­er­ate from in­for­ma­tion based on a blind spot and one from the real world, we show a sur­pris­ingly bias to­ward the for­mer.

They con­cluded that un­der­stand­ing how we com­bine in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent sources gets us closer to dis­cov­er­ing the ex­act mech­a­nisms used by the brain to make de­ci­sions based on our per­cep­tions.

Pic­ture / Michael Craig

Belmont In­ter­me­di­ate School stu­dents Ze­phyr Love­lock ( left), 11 and Toby Cot­ter, 12, have started im­port­ing fid­get spin­ners to sell to class­mates.

Be­liev­ing is see­ing

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