If nautical nonsense be something you wish, then maybe you shouldn't let your kids tune into SpongeBob SquarePants, according to a new study claiming fast-paced cartoons can lead to learning problems in young children.
According to a study in Pediatrics released on Monday, watching just nine minutes of cartoons like SpongeBob daily can negatively affect learning in preschool-aged children.
Preschoolers, who on average watch more than 90 minutes of television daily, are more likely to develop problems with abstract thinking, short-term memory and self-regulation temporarily after watching these types of cartoons, the study noted.
Sixty 4-year-olds at random were divided into three groups and assigned a task to last nine minutes. One group was assigned to watch fast-paced television cartoons like Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants, another group to a slow-paced show on PBS, Caillou, and the third group to draw with markers.
The preschoolers were then assigned to complete a set of executive functions, including the Tower of Hanoi game, counting backwards and delaying gratification, to assess functions in the brain. Those who watched SpongeBob for nine minutes performed worse on all of the tasks in comparison to those who colored and watched PBS.
The negative effects on the preschoolers' performance with executive tasks led the researchers to conclude fast-paced cartoons like SpongeBob can immediately and temporarily impair young children's ability to learn.
SpongeBob SquarePants was not the only fast-paced cartoon targeted for the study, but was chosen since it changes scenes on average every 11 seconds, three times faster than a show airing on PBS.
Nickelodeon fired back with a rebuttal about the methodology used in the study, since it involved all white, middle to upper-class children.
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, Nickelodeon representative David Bittler told The Associated Press. Bittler also pointed out that SpongeBob, in its twelfth year on Nickelodeon, is targeted for six to eleven-year-olds rather than preschool-aged children.
While previous studies have pinned excessive television-watching as the cause for later attention problems, this was the first study of its kind to assess the quality of television and its fast-paced nature watched over the quantity.
The purpose of the study, co-authored by Angeline Lillard of the University of Virginia, is to prompt the attention of parents to not only monitor the amount of television watched by children, but the quality as well, as empirical evidence showed fast-paced cartoons can be damaging to kids.
I wouldn't advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they're expected to pay attention and learn, Lillard told The AP.