The Frontal Cortex

The Fidget Diet

I’ve always been embarrassed by my relentless fidgeting. I play with my beer bottlecaps at bars and endlessly twirl the remote while watching television (this drives my girlfriend crazy). I tap my leg at the dinner table and rap my fingers all day long on my desk. I fold napkins, twirl forks and play with my buttons. It turns out, though, that my behavior has a genetic basis. It also keeps me slender:

Are you the type of person who is constantly fidgeting? If you are there is a chance fidgeting may be in your genes – and the good news is that you are less likely to be fat, according to the new research.

The scientists found a slice of their genome they say accounts for the propensity to shuffle and shift.

The researchers say humans have the same genetic switch shown in the mouse that pre-disposes some to fidgeting. Lead researcher Prof Mathias Treier says those who do fidget are getting valuable daily exercise even without knowing it.

“We’re spending energy by doing that – and this is of course one of the key factors in energy balance,” he says.

“Clearly people who have the more fidgeting phenotype are more protected against diet-induced obesity, for example, than people who are more calm.”

It will be interesting to see how this gene works, and what pathways it affects in the brain. My own unfounded suspicion is that it might up-regulate basal levels of anxiety. In my experience, nervous people are twitchier, and when I get nervous I get really, annoyingly fidgety. I’ve broken two remotes in the last year watching suspenseful movies.


  1. #1 Ed Yong
    June 6, 2007

    I share your pain – I too am an almost constant fidgeter to the great annoyance of my fiancee. Incidentally, she’s not buying my now evidence-based pleas to increase my fidgeting in order to lose weight… 🙂

  2. #2 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 6, 2007

    I wonder if this may be the reason a lot of people gain weight when they take antidepressants (specifically SSRIs). They also have an anti-anxiety effect, which would lessen the fidgeting and consequently lessen energy consumption.

  3. #3 Agnostic
    June 7, 2007

    Heh, another lifetime fidgeter here (5’8 and 130-135 lbs — I look even lighter due to muscle weighing more per unit volume). I fidget the most when I take caffeine, so it has to do in part with cortical arousal. Last I checked, that’s most closely related to Introversion, but the lower correlates of personality traits are poorly understood.

    Does this also have to do with stuttering? Not as in unable to get the words out of your mouth — the speech impediment — but when your mind is racing 20 thoughts ahead of the current one, and you have to deliberately brake your speech just to make sure you can connect all the dots for your partner?

  4. #4 Brigit
    June 7, 2007

    Yet another fidgeter (5’1 and 121 lbs) but I’m also constantly rocking myself (which is extra embarrassing when I’m somewhere public and can’t seem to control it). It feels so awkward to be still, are the two things related??

  5. #5 Elizabeth, MD, PhD
    June 11, 2007

    I was / am not a fidgeter. In fact, I sat / sit rather still and once was watched by a fellow medical student who commented to me that “You don’t move, you don’t play with your pencil, you don’t tap your feet!” My comment was “WHY WASTE ENERGY?” At the time, I was a rather calm, collected person of average built who had plenty of activities to consume my energy.

    But the more important consequence is that the stillness of my body probably contributed to chronic spinal problems (not helped by a genetic disposition to the same).

    Now I try to keep my body somewhat in motion, even when sitting still, to keep it more flexible than in the past… so move about without trying to annoy your mates.

  6. #6 immobilier
    November 11, 2011

    hey vous j’aime bien cette facon de voir les chose ce post mais l’ immobilier est ma plus grande passion.

  7. #7 reading beyond phonics
    December 2, 2011

    I went back and I was a big fan of 9 and 8 and 3. And then I think 13 and 14 are right up thereI cant forget eight and nine. I had six wines that blew me away tonight: 1, 3, 8, 9, 13, and 14. (I embed my audio recording.)

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