SpongeBob May Be Too Speedy For Preschool Brains
News > Health
Nancy Shute
Monday, September 12, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Font size: A | A | A | A |


Children who watched the fast-paced cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants did less well on tests of attention and memory, according to new research. Children who watched a slower PBS show, and children who colored, did better. Other studies have show long-term effects from fast-paced or violent shows.

Parents may dote on the tragicomic adventures of SpongeBob SquarePants, but researchers say that that the cartoon's fast-based scenes may make it harder for young children to pay attention and think.

"I would not encourage parents of a 4-year-old boy to have him watch SpongeBob right before he goes in for his kindergarten readiness assessment," Dimitri Christakis told Shots. He's a child development specialist at Seattle Children's Hospital who wrote a commentary on the new study, which was just published in the journal Pediatrics.

But fans of the optimistic denizen of Bikini Bottom can take solace in the fact that the new study comes with a boatload of caveats. Just 20 4-year-olds were tested after watching the popular Nickolodeon show, and they watched it for nine minutes. That's a very small sample size, and it hardly reflects the real TV-watching habits of young children, who commonly watch two to five hours a day of TV.

And the researchers, psychologists Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, didn't measure if the problems with attention and executive function lasted. But they did compare the SpongeBob watchers to 20 children who watched Caillou, a slower-paced PBS show that features a sweet yet whiny preschooler. Another 20 colored for 9 minutes.

Neither of those groups had problems with the tests, which involved remembering a series of numbers, following rules, and delaying gratification. (That test asks the preschoolers to resist eating a plateful of Goldfish crackers for 5 minutes, which would be hard for many members of the NPR Science Desk.)

But the kids who watched SpongeBob, which changed scenes every 11 seconds, did significantly worse on the tests than either the children who colored, or those who watched educational TV. Caillou changed scenes every 34 seconds.

Other studies have found that children who watch a lot of TV as preschoolers have more problems with attention in the elementary-school years. Christakis, who has conducted several of those studies, says that the findings of the new study are consistent with what he's found. It's not SpongeBob himself who's the culprit, he says, but fast-paced or violent shows. "It's overstimulation that causes the problem," he says. The theory is that overstimulation while a child's brain is developing makes it harder to focus on sustained tasks later on.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents should limit children's use of electronic media to no more than two hours a day. But Christakis says what they're watching is as important as how much. "There's no question that American children watch too much TV," he says, adding, "an hour or two of SpongeBob is way worse than two hours of Caillou." [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]



This article is filed in: Health, Your Health, Children's Health, Home Page Top Stories, News

Also in Health  
'Life, Interrupted' By Cancer Diagnosis At 22
Months after moving to Paris to start her first full-time job, Suleika Jaouad was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, she is coping with relying on her parents for care while dealing with adult issues of mortality, infertility and disease. She writes about her experience for the New York Times Well blog.

'Life, Interrupted' By Cancer Diagnosis At 22
Months after moving to Paris to start her first full-time job, Suleika Jaouad was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, she is coping with relying on her parents for care while dealing with adult issues of mortality, infertility and disease. She writes about her experience for the New York Times Well blog.

Buyers Of Hyped Skechers 'Toning Shoes' Can Get Refunds
Skechers has agreed to pay $40 million to settle claims that it deceived buyers of Shape-ups shoes.

FDA Delays Sunscreen Label Redo
To avert summer shortages, the agency has delayed changes to sunscreen labels.

Medical Records Could Yield Answers On Fracking
Researchers plan to mine 10 years of data on people who live near the Marcellus Shale gas wells.

Comments  
Post a Comment