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Fidgeting - Why Do We Do It?

Dr. Ashish Kuthe 90% (70 ratings)
MD Psychiatry
Psychiatrist, Nagpur  •  3 years experience
Fidgeting - Why Do We Do It?

Every person is familiar with the remark “Stop fidgeting” but does anybody ever wonder why do humans fidget? Is there any scientific reason for such an action? This article will throw light on the underlying causes for what is known as fidgeting.

Fidgeting and its underlying causes

  • Scientific research has revealed that fidgeting has many benefits still most people get annoyed when they see another person twitching and tapping. Most people do this seemingly without any control over their movement when they are ordered to be still. Research shows that there is at least one biological reason to back this action.
  • Since the same brain area is used for movement and speech, it is only natural that gestures are interlinked with thorough preparation for a speech. People tend to move their hands more when they are looking for a word to say, but are not being able to find it. In a recent study, it was found that school children between the age of 6-8 years who use their hands a lot can come up with the right answers during lessons.
  • While this is one theory, another neurological theory suggests that a portion of the mental load is off-loaded through the process of fidgeting when people have to tackle complex problems or thoughts. The theory is called cognitive load hypothesis. The offloading mechanism frees up the mental faculties thus, devoting them to the mental process. While this may not be a definitive explanation for fidgeting, it does go to show that there is a link between a person’s hand movements and their thought and speech process.

Other reasons for fidgeting

  • Other than the cognitive advantages, some evidence has also been found linking fidgeting with metabolism. People who fidget are found to have a higher metabolism and lower BMI. This difference can be seen between thin and overweight people. Fidgeting amidst lollygagging during the day helps burn up to 350 calories a day. Also, fidgeting among other incidental physical activity helps keep an individual fit.
  • Among other reasons, fidgeting also serves as a coping mechanism for people with ADD. If a person is engaged in something that he/she is not interested in then the additional sensory-motor input that is even slightly stimulating or entertaining helps the brain to get completely engaged. This helps to maintain focus on the actual activity being performed by the individual.
  • So, fidgeting helps distract that part of the brain that is getting bored. This helps the other parts of the brain focus better on the actual activity. This is known as floating attention which perhaps is an evolutionary trait that dates back to prehistoric times. In those times, the ability to focus entirely on a task with undivided attention was not favorable to the human since doing so could make them unaware of the enormous ravenous beast hiding behind the bushes.

Thus, though there is some degree of understanding is there when it comes to fidgeting, more research studies are required to gain further insight. Consult an expert & get answers to your questions!

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