The Psychology of School Fads

With fidget spinners and JoJo Bows dominating classrooms, Simon Creasey explores the psychology behind some of the biggest school crazes.

Trends have always swept through schools, from marbles to Pokémon, they come from nowhere and don’t seem to stick around for a particularly long time.

Creasey explains that to understand this we must first understand mimetic theory, adopted by the French-born philosopher and anthropologist René Girard. Nir Eyal applies this theory to the way in which school children obsess over such fads as the fidget spinner:

“If you take a product like a fidget spinner, there is no good reason why people should like them other than the fact that they see other people liking them, and that gives them value. So once a few kids start bringing fidget spinners into class, other kids want to know what these things are.

“Even though they’re just a piece of cheap plastic, the fact that some kids are getting really into them and won’t let other kids play with them increases the value of the product through mimetic desire.”

Closed, artificial environments, such as schools, are perfect for inhabiting this mimetic desire. Competition is often rife and a sense of desire over objects can develop overnight. Additionally, the internet plays a huge part in the spreading and creation of desire within trends. Social media platforms provide endless opportunities for young people to exchange ideas, share images and links, and overall employ a significant amount of pressure on everyone to possess whatever the sought-after craze might be this time.

However, objects of desire exist predominantly because they are hard to get hold of. Once again, with the example of the fidget spinner – this product is now readily available. From Poundland to market stalls, it is virtually impossible to avoid their existence as they are so attainable. When a market becomes saturated, the trend is no longer as desirable. There is no mystique around it any longer.

If this is so, then is it worth schools banning them or controlling their use? With time being extremely valuable based on such a wide-ranging curriculum, many teaching staff would say yes. Many of these fads can be extremely distracting, for both children and teachers. They may also promote a certain sense of competition which can be deeply demoralising for less advantaged children, what if they can’t get their hands on an all-singing all-dancing glow in the dark LED spinner?

As previously mentioned, the saturation of a fad can kill it pretty quickly. Many teachers believe that quelling them completely isn’t necessarily worth the time. Providing, for example, ten minutes at the end of a day when they are able to engage in the activity may help teach a sense of self-regulation and compromise. It is also believed that some can even be beneficial to learning. The fidget spinner, after all, was created to help restless children engage better.

Some schools are even employing these trends in a learning capacity as a method of devaluation. Making an object deeply associated with a maths lesson, for example, will instantly make that thing less ‘cool’.

Whatever your stance on playground and classroom crazes, the mimetic theory certainly goes a long way to dissect their popularity. Click here to read Creasey’s full, brilliant Tes article.

Let us know which fads are ruling the roost at your school by commenting on our Facebook page.