Fidget toys explode in popularity

The first display of toys one encounters when they enter Mary Arnold Toys on the Upper East Side of Manhattan offers a wide array of what kids and those in the toy industry refer to as "fidgets".

"Recently, we have had some trouble stocking them," Mary Arnold Toys manager Judy Ishayik said.

The surprise popularity of these so-called fidgets -- a full four years after the fidget spinner craze -- has forced Ishayik to explore new categories of fidget toys.

"We have magnetic fidget toys," Ishayik said, "we have brain teaser puzzles."

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"Tangles and peapods and silicone poppers like this one right here," The Toy Insider senior editor Maddie Michalik said, "squishy balls and the list goes on."

Michalik called the resurgence and renaissance of fidgets still too new for her to share numbers reflecting their popularity but confirmed toy shops around the country shared in Mary Arnold's struggle to keep fidgeting toys in stock.

"They are way more popular this year than the first time around thanks to social media and TikTok in particular," Michalik said.

"There is a surprising lack of basic science on fidgeting," UC Santa Cruz School of Engineering computational media professor Katherine Isbister said.

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Isbister started studying fidgeting more than a decade ago and now reports patterns in how and when many of us fidget.

"When kids are mad, they really like to squeeze stuff," Isbister said. "When people are trying to pay attention, the kids reported they really liked clicking things."

Isbister says one of the key traits of a successful fidget toy is the ability to fidget with it without looking at it. "It feels good in the hands and it allows you to do some kind of repetitive interaction," she said.

While Isbister knew of no scientific consensus on the brain benefits or detriments of fidgeting, she felt as long as the fidget toy didn't distract the fidgeter from those around them, these toys seemed, at worst, harmless.

"Anecdotally, people report that it helps them focus," Isbister said, "It helps them to calm down and stay alert in meetings."

"We have some really fun frogs or unicorns," Ishayik said.