WATCHING FAST-PACED CARTOONS like SpongeBob SquarePants leaves young children significantly less able to perform challenging tasks than those who watch more sedate TV, a new American study has found.
The American Academy of Paediatrics compared sixty 4-year-old children, split into three groups for nine minutes: one watching SpongeBob SquarePants, the second watching the Canadian animated show Caillou, and the third given paper, crayons and markers.
Comparing the three groups afterwards, academics found that those who had spent the previous nine minutes watching the goings-on at Bikini Bottom were immediately shown to be “significantly impared in executive function”.
Among the tasks that SpongeBob watchers performed poorly at were requests to play games with an organised set of rules, and an activity in which children were given a snack, but asked not to consume it for a few minutes.
Bloomberg quoted the study’s lead author, Angeline Lillard from the University of Virginia, as saying:
We don’t know how long this effect lasts… it may be that children recover quickly. Certainly, immediately after, there was a strong impact particularly on the most challenging tasks.
Parents should know that children who have just watched SpongeBob SquarePants, or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control.
Nickelodeon has sought to discredit the study, saying that SpongeBob is aimed at children aged between 6 and 11 – and not at the 4-year-olds with whom the study was conducted.
Reuters also quoted a Nickelodeon statement arguing that the methodology for the study was circumspect.
“Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted demo, watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology,” the statement said, “and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust.”