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Is 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Making Preschoolers Slower Thinkers?

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Nickelodeon(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- He may be one of the longest-running, best-loved cartoons in Nickelodeon history, but SpongeBob SquarePants is getting no love from child psychologists.

According to research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, watching fast-paced cartoons like SpongeBob, even for just a few minutes, hinders abstract thinking, short-term memory and impulse control in preschoolers.

Led by University of Virginia psychologist Angeline Lillard, researchers randomly assigned 60 four-year-olds to three activities: drawing freely with markers for nine minutes; watching a slower-paced, PBS cartoon for that time; or watching SpongeBob SquarePants.  Researchers chose SpongeBob for its frenetic pace: The show switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, as compared with the PBS cartoon, which switched only twice a minute.

Afterward, the preschoolers were asked to do four different "executive function" tasks that test cognitive capability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so.  Compared with those who were drawing and those watching PBS, the SpongeBob kids performed significantly worse on the tasks.

Study authors note that it's hard to say what it was about the adventures of this friendly kitchen sponge that seemed to have such an immediate negative effect on kids, but they suspected it was the fantastical events and rapid pacing of the show.  By contrast, the PBS show was slower and exhibited real life events about a preschool-age boy.

Parents and pediatricians have often commented that the frenzied pace of many kids' cartoons today make kids distracted and kill their attention spans.

"This is something we have known for quite sometime, but this is elegant research that puts science behind what we think," says Dr. David Rosenberg, chief of child psychiatry and psychology at Wayne State University.

The blame shouldn't fall exclusively on the square shoulders of this kindly sea sponge.  All fast-paced, fantastical kids' shows are called into question.

Nickleodeon, the makers of SpongeBob, defended the cartoon, pointing out that the study looked only at white middle- to upper-class kids.  The study subjects were also only four -- two years younger than the target SpongeBob audience.

"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," David Bittler, a representative for Nickleodeon, told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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  • Response
    NFL is seriously 1 of the largest sports in America. It has a main following.

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