SpongeBob Cause learning disabilities in Children
Watching just nine minutes of fast-paced cartoons, such as the perennial children’s favourite “SpongeBob SquarePants,” can cause short-term attention problems in preschoolers, new research suggests.
For the study, psychologists studied 60 four-year-olds. Each was randomly assigned to watch either “a fast-paced cartoon featuring an animated kitchen sponge,” that is: “SpongeBob”; the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou”; or nine minutes of colouring with paper and crayons.
Immediately after the nine-minute assignments, the children took mental function tests. The tests measured the kids’ ability to problem-solve, to remember what they had been told and to follow rules.
Another test measured self-control and ability to delay gratification by measuring how long the kids could wait before eating snacks presented when a researcher left the room.
Those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the drawing group in all the tests. Yet there was no difference between the drawing group and the kids who watched “Caillou.”
For example, in the delay gratification test with the snacks, the kids in the “SpongeBob” group could wait only about two-and-a-half minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups.
The results appear in the journal Pediatrics.
It’s long been suspected that TV-watching can lead to attention problems in young children over the long term, but this new study suggests there may be more immediate problems that can occur — even after just a few minutes of viewing.
It also suggests that parents should be concerned not just with just how much television their children watch, but what they’re watching.
The study’s lead author, University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard, believes the study shows that young children are compromised in their ability to learn and use self-control immediately after watching fast-paced shows.
She offered a couple of explanations for why children might experience short-term problems.
The first is that the fast pacing (with frequent scene changes and characters that are constantly in motion), and the fantasy aspect of the shows (with characters doing things that make no sense in the real world), may disrupt young children’s ability to concentrate immediately afterward.
It’s also possible that kids are unconsciously adopting the characteristics of the unfocused and frenetic characters.
Lillard notes similar problems have been noticed in kids who watched other fast-paced cartoon programming; not just “SpongeBob.”
“I wouldn’t advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they’re expected to pay attention and learn,” she told The Associated Press.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, notes the research has some “notable weaknesses,” including a small sample size of just 60 children.
He also notes the study didn’t look at how long the behavioural effects of the fast-paced shows lasted. Nor is it clear whether older children might be affected the same way.
Despite the flaws, Christakis says the study offers some important insights.
“This is a small study but it is important one because if it is true that there is a link between TV viewing and intellectual capacity in children, it is concerning,” he told CTV News.
He said the study also showed that what children watch is as important as how much they watch.
“I was the type of programming that actually made a difference the fast paced cartoon was associated with deficits in attention, the slow paced was not and this I think is critical for parents and, for that matter, educators and researchers to realize,” he added.
But a spokesperson for Nickelodeon, which produces “SpongeBob,” disputes the findings. David Bittler notes that “SpongeBob SquarePants” is aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds, not 4-year-olds. He also notes that most of the kids in the study group were white and from middle-class or wealthy families.
“Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted (audience), watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” he told The Associated Press.