Children may love the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, but child psychologists are saying the Nickelodeon program may cause short-term memory and learning problems in preschoolers.
Researchers randomly assigned 60 four-year-olds to perform one of three tasks for nine minutes: watching PBS cartoon “Caillou,” drawing pictures or watching “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Researchers performed mental function tests after the assignments, such as counting backwards and solving puzzles, and found the children who watched “SpongeBob” were less able to solve problems and pay attention than the others.
Lead researcher of the study, Angeline Lillard a psychologist at the University of Virginia, said “SpongeBob” was chosen because the show is fast-paced and switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, compared to the other cartoon that changes scenes only twice a minute, ABC News reported.
This could be caused because children often mimic the behavior of frenetic characters, researchers said. Programs that are fast-paced and feature unrealistic events may over-stimulate the brain, making it harder to trigger executive function, a process used to complete tasks, Lillard said, according to Bloomberg.
Researchers suggest that parents consider what programs their children watch and opt for more calm activities.
“I wouldn’t advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they’re expected to pay attention and 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,” she added, according to the Telegraph.
Lillard noted the friendly sea sponge is not the only one to blame. She also found similar problems in children who watched other fast-paced programs. Previous research showed a link between watching excessive television and children with long-term attention problems. However, the current study, published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, suggests immediate problems can occur from just little exposure to certain programs.
Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler defended “SpongeBob” saying the show’s target audience is children aged six to 11-year-old, not four-year-olds.
“Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted demo, watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology. It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” Bittler said in a statement, ABC News reported.