Fast-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob may be damaging your children's brain power, according to a new study.

It finds that watching television not only has negative effect on executive function of kids over the long term, but also exercises immediate impact. 

Psychologists Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson from the University of Virginia's department of psychology conducted a study on the immediate impact of fast-paced television on preschoolers' executive function, like attention, working memory, problem solving and delay of gratification.

Their research, published in Monday's issue of Pediatrics, finds that children who watched SpongeBob SquarePants for 9 minutes had significantly impaired executive function compared to others who watched a slow-spaced PBS cartoon Caillou or were told to draw with markers and crayons.

After viewing cartoons or drawing for 9 minutes, 60 4-year-old children in the study received a variety of tests for executive function. While 15% of those who watched SpongeBob passed the problem-solving task, where they were asked to move disks from one peg to another, 35% of Caillou viewers and 70% of those who drew did. Another test measured the delay of gratification through how long the kids could endure before eating snacks presented in front of them. SpongeBob viewers waited about 2.5 minutes on average, while other two groups could wait at least four minutes.

The researchers pointed out that fast-paced programs affect different parts of the brain than slower ones.

Connecting fast-paced television viewing to deficits in executive function ... has profound impacts for children's cognitive and social development that need to be considered and reacted to, wrote University of Washington pediatrics professor Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, an authority on children and the media, in an editorial accompanying the study.

It's not just about turning off your TV but about changing the channel. What kids watch is as important as how much they watch.

Christakis further noted, What if too much of a fast-paced cartoon makes children highly distractible? Distractibility is all relative. Executives of the future (if not the present) will not focus on a single task but on many concurrently while updating their Facebook status. In the 21st century, distractibility is not a liability, some argue, but an asset. It is hard for me to see (let alone acknowledge) that this is the case. Focus seems too central to wise decision-making.

The study also recommended parents to help their kids develop sound behaviors and learning skills through creative learning activities like drawing and playing outdoors.


SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated television series featuring SpongeBob and his friends in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. Nickelodeon, the network which airs the program said that SpongeBob is intended to be viewed by children ages 6 to 11 and not by preschoolers.