Popular cartoon character 'SpongeBob SquarePants' is the target of criticism again. A study conducted at the University of Virginia, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggested that allowing pre-schoolers to watch the series caused short term disruptions in mental function and attention span.

The study concluded that children faced difficulty concentrating and focusing after watching fast-paced programming.

 Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, found that watching fast-paced, fantasy television programmes, like 'SpongeBob Square Pants,' could compromise a young child's executive function- their ability to pay attention, problem-solving and controlling their behavior, reports the guardian.co.uk.

For the study, researchers divided 60 four-year-olds into three groups. One group watched 9 minutes of what the researchers called an animated kitchen sponge cartoon. The second group watched nine minutes of a slower-paced educational children's show, Caillou, while the third group spent nine minutes drawing. The children were then tested on their thinking and memory skills. Turns out the picture-drawing group and the group that watched Caillou did much better than the group that watched SpongeBob.

There was little difference on the tests between the drawing group and the group that watched Caillou, said Lillard. However, the children's executive function seems to have been negatively impacted in the SpongeBob group.

Researchers believe that the simulation from the fast-paced cartoons overtaxes the children's brains, leading to lower scores.

When children have to process a lot of information very quickly, it is difficult to process because it's unusual. In this case [SpongeBob episodes], a lot of things are happening that can't happen in real life, Lillard said, according to health.usnews.com. We think it leaves them mentally exhausted -- at least for a short time.

How long these effects might last isn't known, Lillard added. Lillard also concluded that the effects were not confined to SpongeBob but also other fast-paced fantastical shows. 

 The American Academy of Pediatrics, which also publishes the journal Pediatrics, espouses that kids below two years of age should not watch any television. The group also says that older children can watch educational programs on television for one to two hours a day.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, believes that it is not only about how much television children watched, but also about what the kids watched.

 It's not about turning the TV off. It's about changing the channel, Christakis said, reports msnbc.msn.com.

Nickelodeon, owned by Viacom International, which produces the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, released a statement questioning the validity of the findings.

Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show's targeted demo, watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust, said the statement.

Nickelodeon noted that the SpongeBob cartoon was made for 6 to 11- year-old children and not for 4-year-olds, who were the subject of the study.