Story by Michael Homnick
"Don't look outside," you tell yourself, sinking deeper into your desk chair. The weather outside is beautiful, seemingly the nicest day of the year, so far. And here you are—wasting it, trapped in your least favorite class. You glance at the clock and grimace: still an hour to go. The motivation to pay attention is fading fast. Without thinking, you pick up your pen and quietly tap it on your notebook paper, beating out a rhythm.
Soon, your right leg decides to join in, bouncing up and down under the desk. Next, your free hand joins in this symphony of the unconscious, tapping the side of your chair in tempo with the pen. "Stop that!" says the person next to you. "You're shaking the table." You apologize, and try to re-focus, but to no avail: You are a fidgeter and there’s nothing that can be done.
Fidgeters are always moving in some way. Fidgeting can manifest itself in many different forms, from tapping out rhythms, to shaking feet, to fiddling with hair. While most people fidget from time to time, some people do it more often, as a way to release pent-up energy or stress.
The psychology of fidgeting is not as straightforward as one may think. Fidgeting has long been associated with people with Type A personality.
A Type A person is more competitive, aggressive and impatient, making them more prone to fidget.
Dr. Barbara Lehman, a Western psychology professor who does research in social, health and developmental psychology, says Type A personality traits were initially linked to heart disease after doctors noticed their patients were commonly fidgeters.
But relatively recent findings have pointed to some unexpected positive side-effects of fidgeting. A clinical study, published in the academic journal "Science" in January 2005, found that obese people are far less likely to be fidgety than thinner people.
The study found that fidgeting can burn up to 350 calories a day—enough to count as a mini-workout.
In fact, 350 calories is roughly the equivalent to a single patty cheeseburger with condiments and vegetables.
Another study, published in May 2009 in the "Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology," showed that fidgeting actually helps people work out problems.
This was especially significant in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as the kids reportedly fidgeted excessively until they figured out a problem given by researchers. After the problem was solved, fidgeting reduced greatly.
So the next time you catch yourself fiddling with your coat zipper, or tapping out a tribal rhythm on your desk, remember the positives: you could be doing your brain and your body a favor.