A newly published study by the University of Virginia’s department of psychology examined Spongebob Squarepants and the show’s influence on the attention span, working memory, problem solving, and delayed gratification of children- all of which are thought to be essential to success in school.
The researchers, Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, randomly assigned 60 four-year-olds to different groups: one watched nine minutes of Spongebob, and one that watched nine minutes of slower-paced programming from a PBS show (Caillou). After viewing the respective shows, the kids were asked to perform four tests that measured the aforementioned areas. The kids who watched Spongebob fared significantly worse than the kids who watched the other show (*there was also a control group, of course, who didn’t watch anything).
Lillard said 4-year-olds were studied, as that age “is the heart of the period during which you see the most development” in certain self-control abilities. Hence, whether or not children of other ages would be similarly affected can’t be determined from this study. Most of the kids in the study were white and from middle-class to wealthy families, so the study is also limited in that way as well (however, it’s dubious to claim that a cogent argument can be made that poor kids from minority families would fare better).
Nickelodeon (the company who airs Spongebob) was quoted by CNN that “having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted demo, watch 9 minutes of programming is questionable methodology. It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust.” In addition, Nickelodeon notes that “SpongeBob” is intended to be viewed by kids ages 6 to 11 and not by preschoolers.
I’m not sure if this is how kids watch these shows – are they watching 9 minutes of Spongebob right before their classes? Or are they watching the show right before they do their homework? And let’s be honest, we see these kinds of fast paced smash cuts in other types of programming – check out the History Channel and count the number of seconds between each static scene change (where the narrator is talking over a series of pictures, not when they’re interviewing someone or showing something dynamic…think Civil War documentaries). What you’ll notice is an average of 3 seconds on each picture, with a maximum of 5 seconds. This isn’t too far off from our underwater friend, Spongebob.
And frankly, I dispute the idea that a kid who can’t (or doesn’t want to) bother with academic tasks when they could be watching Spongebob instead, is a kid that has decreased cognitive abilities. Also if you’re not familiar with the other program that they showed the kids (Caillou), it’s f*cking unwatchable, even if you’re only four years old. It’s about a kid who is either retarded or Canadian (I’m not sure), and all of the normal sh*t that happens in his life. Why would a four year old kid want to watch another four year old kid going to school, listening to his grandmother read him a story, and riding a bike? It’s awful. I’d rather do schoolwork too.