Watching highly paced cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants hinders pre-schoolers’ abstract thinking, short-term memory and impulse control, according to the University of Virginia.
“He may be one of the longest-running, best-loved cartoons in Nickelodeon history,” writes Courtney Hutchison for ABC News, “but SpongeBob SquarePants is getting no love from child psychologists.”
According to research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, watching such fast-paced cartoons, even for just a few minutes, is detrimental, reports Hutchison:
Led by University of Virginia psychologist Angeline Lillard, researchers randomly assigned 60 four-year-olds to three activities: drawing freely with markers for nine minutes; watching a slower-paced, PBS cartoon for that time; or watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Researchers chose SpongeBob for its frenetic pace: The show switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, as compared with the PBS cartoon, which switched only twice a minute.
Afterward the preschoolers were asked to do four different “executive function” tasks that test cognitive capability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so. Compared with those who were drawing and those watching PBS, the SpongeBob kids performed significantly worse on the tasks.
Study authors note that it’s hard to say what it was about the adventures of this friendly kitchen sponge that seemed to have such an immediate negative effect on kids, but they suspected it was the fantastical events and rapid pacing of the show. By contrast, the PBS show was slower and exhibited real life events about a preschool-age boy.