Does SpongeBob make kids stupid?

Watching nine minutes of SpongeBob Squarepants can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds, concludes a new study published in Pediatrics. Children who drew pictures or watched a slower-paced PBS cartoon, Caillou, outperformed SpongeBob watchers on tests of mental functions.

It’s not just SpongeBob. Watching other fast-paced cartoons makes it harder for young children to pay attention or learn immediately afterward, said Angeline Lillard, a University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard and lead author of the study.

The anti-Mozart effect?


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  1. I found it even more interesting that a normal-paced cartoon had no negative effect on the children (they did about the same as the children that colored). I have definitely seen differences in how my children behave depending on what they have just watched. Blue’s Clues seems to make them into model citizens, while Nihao, Kailan causes them fight with each other.

  2. I think the study is suspicious and small, but either way there has been a change in the pacing of cartoons and other entertainment over the years. Stimulation, I think, is a bit like a drug and our brains really seem to crave it. Continuously pushing the envelop in terms of maximum pacing probably leads to better ratings.

    I wonder, though, if there can be a link between kids used to ever faster pacing and kids with ever shorter attention spans and patience.

    • For decades, I’ve observed that many of the boys who spend lots of time on video gaming are ADHD, and vice versa. I have no scientific evidence, but I can’t help but wonder if the fast-paced, constant stimulation of video games is not helpful; I’m not suggesting that it causes ADHD, but it may aggravate it. I’d like to see the possible relationship explored.

      One of the best decisions we ever made was to disallow video games, either on the TV or on the computer. The only games allowed were the history ones like Civ III, which are very different in terms of pacing and the kids were allowed very little TV, other than news (pre-internet news) and some sports. We didn’t even have cable until the younger kids (now mid-late 20s) were in HS. The kids occasionally played video games at friends’ (not often because the friends were always sports teammates and not gamers) but they lost interest after 15-20″. Even if there’s no other negative, lots of TV and/or gaming wastes lots of time.

      • “…I’m not suggesting that it causes ADHD, but it may aggravate it. I’d like to see the possible relationship explored. …”

        Did you notice that, bright, flashy and distracting as they may be to you, those ADHD boys were concentrating on the video games?

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    It’s a crap study. It causes attention issues immediately after viewing? How about 10 minutes after viewing? 20 minutes?

    I have a hard time concentrating after running. I need time to re-focus and calm my various systems.

    People need to use a bit of common sense. Will a fast paced tv program or activity raise your adrenaline a bit and make you a bit hyper? Duh.

    Don’t sit your kid in front of a tv, computer, or video game for hours. Duh, again.

  4. How did we ever survive watching Speed Racer?

  5. How did we ever survive watching Speed Racer?

    That was *TOTALLY* different.


  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Yes, because speedracer had an easy to follow, predictable plot and was BORING. Much closer to Caillou than Spongebob! 😛

    I’d like to see the study repeated with Phineas and Ferb….. which is also fast-paced, but less annoying….

  7. Deirdre Mundy: Yes, because speedracer had an easy to follow, predictable plot and was BORING.

    HERESY!!!! Burn the infidel!

    You must be kidding.

    Speedracer had the Mach5 car that could do *stuff*.

    You don’t need plots and character development (heck, or acting) when you have cool hardware.

    Next you are going to be telling me that there have been better TV series than Knightrider and Airwolf.

  8. I’ve been thinking for some time that our society is training kids to NOT have an attention span of more than a few seconds.

  9. It all started with Tetris – the Evil Empire’s attempt to reduce us to drooling idiots.

  10. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Yeah, but wouldn’t it be awesome if we could solve all our problems by taking SpongeBob off the air? What a world that would be.

  11. Agree with Stacy in NJ, but this makes me miss Mr. Rogers. For kids under 7, he was the only reasonable choice.

  12. Captain Kangaroo???

  13. i tink spoongebob is verry inapprropriatt for yung children and shuld be taken of the televission. my frind nicole waches spoongebob and she didnt turn out sooooo good. but she is a verry nise persson still…by the wya i watch spoongebob too:)

  14. Yeah, let’s blame it as a whole, that’ll work. As a youngn’ I watched spongebob (back when he was still hetrosexual) and I’ve turned out pretty well. The problem is people seem to be taking the ‘edge’ out (or rather off) of everything. It’s sad really, it used to be easy to find a small bit of adult humor in a childrens cartoon, now it’s like we’re trying to brainwash kids into sharing and caring COS’ THE WORLD IS A HAPPY SAFE PLACE WHERE NOTHING BAD EVAR’ HAPPENS O’ LOOK A RAINBOW!!!11!!1!1oneone. Over-protection isn’t keeping your kids off the streets at age twelve (that should be common sense), over-protection is making sure your kids never learn about the bad aspects of life, and just people in general! And I’m sure somebody’s going to try and make a clever comment about my comment, I’d like said people to refer to Mister Johhny’s post, I’m sure you folks would agree whole-heartedly…