A new study was released today comparing the attention spans of four-year-olds watching two programs, SpongeBob Squarepants and Caillou (with a third group drawing pictures instead of watching tv).
After just nine minutes the SpongeBob group showed “temporary attention and learning problems” – in sharp contrast to the other two groups.
The official Nickelodeon defense is of course that SpongeBob is aimed at an older audience than four-year-olds, but that does not reduce the value of this research. While the test group was quite small and further studies seem to be called for, it still raises important questions about how certain programs can affect attention span and “executive function”. It also helps to underline how important age-appropriate programming is. For non-parents it would seem a no-brainer that you shouldn’t show your toddler older programming, however in this day and age it is becoming impossible to control what your child is watching with televisions blaring in so many public spaces. Case in point: the ferry ride we took recently that played SpongeBob in the play area for well over an hour!