A new study published today by Pediatrics finds that watching just nine minutes of the raucous Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants can cause short-term attention and self-control problems in 4-year-olds. So what your parents say about TV rotting your brain may actually be true.
According to the medical journal study, the problem isn’t just SpongeBob but fast-paced cartoons in general. In the sample study group of 60 youngsters, different types of TV were shown to the subjects for nine minutes followed by a test of their executive functions (self-regulation, working memory and attention span).
The results were hardly surprising; those 4-year-olds exposed to SpongeBob tested significantly lower immediately after watching it than the group exposed to the slower-paced PBS cartoon Caillou and the group that worked on drawing with crayons for the nine minutes.
Researchers speculate that watching fast-paced high-action cartoons can be detrimental to children. The study found children tested lower after only nine minutes of cartoon viewing, and as the typical cartoon runs about 22 minutes it “could be more detrimental”. Though researchers admit that more testing is needed to make that speculation conclusive.
Naturally, SpongeBob creators have something to say about the study, claiming it’s invalid. Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler said that SpongeBob isn’t aimed at 4-year-olds, but at the 6-11 age group. He also mentioned its “questionable methodology” and the fact that the 60 test subjects weren’t diverse.
This latest test joins a growing number of studies on the ills of fast-paced (loud, action-oriented chaos) cartoons on young children. And while those invested in these cartoons may dispute the validity of the research, it is obvious that what kids are watching does indeed affect them, on way or another.