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Study: "SpongeBob" and similar cartoons can confuse young brains

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers say children who watch fast-paced, nonsensical television shows like "SpongeBob Square Pants" may have trouble learning. In a study, 4-year olds who watched the show for nine minutes, then tested, were found to have learning and behavior problems. The study investigators say shows like “Square Pants” disrupts a child’s ability to concentrate and learn.

Slow paced television shows better for kids' learning

According to lead investigator Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor in University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, children who watch fast-paced television shows can adopt the same unfocused behaviors seen among the cartoon characters.

"It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child's ability to concentrate immediately afterward," she said. "Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics.”

The researchers compared children watching slower paced television shows to the popular cartoon. The study can be found in the journal Pediatrics.

After watching nine-minutes of either “SpongeBob”, or the show "Caillou”, which is a slower paced program on public TV, the researchers tested the 4-yr olds.

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Children who watched SpongeBob had trouble paying attention, solving problems and behaving.

The researchers note the importance of self-control, especially in the classroom.

"Young children are beginning to learn how to behave as well as how to learn," Lillard said. "At school, they have to behave properly, they need to sit at a table and eat properly, they need to be respectful, and all of that requires executive functions. If a child has just watched a television show that has handicapped these abilities, we cannot expect the child to behave at their normal level in everyday situations."

Shows that confuse a child’s brain could impair learning. Television that is fast-paced and makes no sense in the real world can have a negative impact on a child’s learning ability, warn the researchers.

The study authors suggest parents engage children in activities like playing out of doors, drawing, using building blocks and playing board games. The study suggests shows like “SpongeBob Square Pants” are too fast paced and fantastical for developing young brains.

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