The lovable sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea is cute, funny and potentially detrimental to kids’ mental functions. Research recently published in Pediatrics shows that four-year-olds who watched only nine minutes of an episode of Spongebob SquarePants performed markedly worse on “executive function” tasks than kids who spent nine minutes coloring or watching a PBS television show.
The problem with Spongebob SquarePants is the frenetic pace of the TV show, which switches scenes nearly every 11 seconds. When asked to perform tasks that “test cognitive ability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so,” the Spongebob-watching test subjects had more trouble focusing and controlling themselves. The kids who watched the PBS show, which switches scenes only twice a minute, were much better at completing the tasks and scored as high as the kids who spent the time coloring.
This study is interesting because it proves that TV is not necessarily bad for kids, but that some programs are much better than others. Along with moving along at an unrealistic pace that humans’ brains are not equipped to handle, the plot of Spongebob SquarePants depends on magical occurences and other things that can’t happen in real life.
Profesor Angeline S. Lillard says: “There is so much stuff that’s hard to assimilate, it might be disrupting the child’s thinking process, so they might not be able to grasp the messages that are educational. This suggests the brain is working very hard to register it all and gets exhausted afterward.”
Nickelodeon, Spongebob’s network, questioned the methodology of the study and criticized the small sample size. Network officials stated that the test subjects were too young, as Spongebob SquarePants is intended only for children six to eleven years old. The reality, however, is that 39% of Spongebob viewers are between two and five years old — and their brains are negatively affected by the show.
It is still unclear exactly how television affects developing brains, but this study definitely raises some concerns about the type of TV shows kids should be watching. Parents, remember to monitor the quality of TV programming as well as the amount of time your kids spend glued to the tube. There are great TV programs for young children — do your kids a favor and steer them toward the shows that will boost their mental functions.
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