Piumi Rajasekera, Contributor
Research studies show compelling evidence that some popular cartoons may have a temporarily detrimental effect on children’s cognitive abilities. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics investigated these effects on a group of sixty preschool-aged children.
The study, headed by Dr. Angeline S. Lillard, assigned children to one of three groups. One group watched a nine-minute clip of the popular cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants, while another group watched Caillou, an educational program. The control group was given art supplies and was instructed to draw for nine minutes. All of the children in the study were similar in attention skills and the amount of time spent watching television per week. Immediately after their respective tasks, the children were tested for their executive functioning, which is measured by assessing attention, working memory, problem solving skills and resistance to delay of gratification.
To test the children in these dimensions, four tasks were administered. These included the hands-toes-knees-shoulders task, the Tower of Hanoi task, a counting backwards task and a situation in which a child had to be patient in order to be rewarded the maximum number of treats. The results of this study found that the group of children who had watched SpongeBob performed significantly worse on executive functioning than the control group.
Dr. Lillard speculates that one reason for the difference between groups may be the fantastical and fast-paced nature of the cartoon. It is cognitively depleting for children to process many unusual events which occur quickly. Although this particular study was mainly interested in finding the short-term effects of watching fast-paced cartoons, much other scientific evidence suggests that there are long-term negative effects of entertainment television on attention.