New research finds that rapidly-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob Squarepants may be associated with difficulty concentrating for preschool children.
The study out of the University of Virginia, finds that preschoolers who watched just nine minutes of SpongeBob were “significantly impaired” in tests that measure a person’s ability to stay on task. These tests measured the child’s ability to problem solve, follow rules and remember information.
One of the study’s weaknesses was its size, only consisting of 60 four-year olds. The children were split into three groups. One group watched SpongeBob, the second watched an educational cartoon (Caillou on PBS), and the third group spent the nine minutes drawing.
The children who watched the fast-paced cartoon did not perform as well in all tasks, compared with the other two groups: 15 percent of the children who watched SpongeBob passed the problem-solving task, compared with 35 percent of those who watched the educational cartoon, and 70 percent of those who spent their time drawing.
According to MSNBC, the authors write SpongeBob may not have the same negative effects on attention in older children. They also acknowledge it is unknown how long the negative effects may last.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the author of a commentary accompanying the study, tells TIME:
“Too many children watch too much TV… But it’s at least as important to figure out what they should watch. SpongeBob, for what it’s worth, isn’t even supposed to be viewed by kids between the ages of 3 to 5. That alone is a guide for parents: watch age-appropriate content.”