science of fidget spinners

On June 28th, 2017

Fidget Spinners : The Science Behind The Cultural Phenomenon

Fidget spinners are practically everywhere these days. Fun, bright, and undeniably interactive, kids (and even adults) have flocked to join this fad. They may seem silly, but there's more to them than meets the eye. The science behind why they work and why we like them is entirely legitimate.

How They Work

On the surface, fidget spinners may not look very involved. They're simple in shape, and their function is just to rotate around and around. These spinners use ball bearings that limit the amount of friction the toy may encounter, making them simple and satisfying to spin. Even small hands can twist or flick the spinner to set the outer ball bearing in motion. The other ball bearing serves as the base of the toy the child can hold as they spin. The ball bearings also ensure the spinner has enough weight to balance the momentum. When kids spin it, they're technically experiencing torque (rotational force) first-hand, in that they need to push on the spinner to set it in motion. Spinners stay spinning and won't tilt due to conservation of momentum. Just like a ping-pong ball will roll fairly far without a lot of force, these spinners apply that same principle in circular form to keep everything in motion until another force is exerted upon it.

Why They Work

There is a certain amount of instant gratification when it comes to fidget spinners. People can carry them around practically everywhere they go (no wi-fi required), and it's easy for the owner to become addicted to the feel of a spinning object in your hand. The constant undulation and vibration that can be felt in the palm and in the fingers can have an immediate effect on the holder, allowing them to feel some sense of control — even when it seems there's no control to be had in a situation. When children often feel as though they're at the mercy of what other people want to do, there's little mystery in why they've taken to this phenomena so quickly.

As with any fad, people will find a way to put their own twist on the basics of the rules. Kids may try to spin with their toes, nose, or forehead. They can be stacked to create a tower, which can make even the most stable person feel a little dizzy. The ultimate challenge though seems to be trying to toss them back and forth to friends. Learning more about the science behind our favorite toys doesn't diminish their appeal, it only adds to our understanding about the world around us.

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