By Lindsay Tanner, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.

The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch “SpongeBob,” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or assigned to draw pictures. Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the others.

Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure — results that parents of young kids should be alert to, the study authors said.

WBZ-TV’s Ken MacLeod reports

Kids’ cartoon shows typically feature about 22 minutes of action, so watching a full program “could be more detrimental,” the researchers speculated, But they said more evidence is needed to confirm that.

The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size, but the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He is a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Christakis said parents need to realize that fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children. “What kids watch matters, it’s not just how much they watch,” he said.

University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard, the lead author, said Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob” shouldn’t be singled out. She found similar problems in kids who watched other fast-paced cartoon programming.

She said parents should realize that young children are compromised in their ability to learn and use self-control immediately after watching such shows. “I wouldn’t advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they’re expected to pay attention and learn,” she said.

Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler disputed the findings and said “SpongeBob SquarePants” is aimed at kids aged 6-11, not 4-year-olds.

“Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted (audience), watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” he said.

Lillard said 4-year-olds were chosen because that age “is the heart of the period during which you see the most development” in certain self-control abilities. Whether children of other ages would be similarly affected can’t be determined from this study.

Most kids were white and from middle-class or wealthy families. They were given common mental function tests after watching cartoons or drawing. The SpongeBob kids scored on average 12 points lower than the other two groups, whose scores were nearly identical.

In another test, measuring self-control and impulsiveness, kids were rated on how long they could wait before eating snacks presented when the researcher left the room. “SpongeBob” kids waited about 2 1/2 minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups.

The study has several limitations. For one thing, the kids weren’t tested before they watched TV. But Lillard said none of the children had diagnosed attention problems and all got similar scores on parent evaluations of their behavior.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (30)
  1. Julie the Jarhead says:

    Are you effin’ kidding me???

    We’ve had 40 years of the ADD-inducing ‘Sesame Street’, complete with its male-dominated cast and that insipid PBS-tone of voice — and you’re giving my Spongebob a hard time???

    Sandy Cheeks is going to kick your arse!

    1. KEN MARSHALL says:


  2. Ann says:

    I think this is nuts all the kids i know that watch Spong bob
    never had this problems
    my sister kids watch spong bob they never had learning problems.
    They watch spong bob when they was 3 to 6 years old
    and never has no problems also.

  3. JJ says:

    No wonder i’m doing so bad in grade 12…. Just watched the “Every Spongebob EVER” marathon on Nick last month… well, atleast thats now what I can say to my parents when they see the dreasful 15% on my report card :)

  4. A Da says:

    Did they figure out that “Caillou” tuns kids into whiny brats?

  5. Barbara says:

    Ok so I guess we can now blame Sponge Bob for our kids being brats, nevermind it being our own fault. I remember watching Bugs Bunny, The Road Runner and Wyle E Cyote and many other cartoons as well as shows like the Banana Splits and no said I had an attention problem after watching these shows. Stop blaming TV, Movies, Misuc and Video games for the fact that kids today are out of control, this is the fault of the parents not the media. Of course kids were a little more hyper after watching Sponge Bob that is a fast pace show, don’t you get a little revved up after watching something exciting too. GIVE ME A BREAK!

    1. Ann says:

      they took out Bugs bunny and the road runner
      becasue it was too much violence becasue they think kids
      can do the samething like Roadrunner does.
      witch i think they should bring them back i like to see Bugs Bunny and road runner i use to see that with my friends kids family
      i wish they will stop blaming the tv show that can hurt the kids

  6. emom says:

    I mean be real folks,,,, we grew up on bugs bunny, Sylvester & tweety, 3 stooges, our gang, flintstones, “JANE STOP THIS THING” jetsons, even some of the sitcoms where weird,,,,, my favorite Martian, outer space, “WARNING WILL ROBERTSON WARNING“, lets be realistic, we or most of us watched plenty of violent shows and the majority of us are normal adults. Hell slap stick was in and blowing your enemy up was funny.. Sure it was killing our brains,,, BUT we also went out and climbed trees, FELL OUT, broke something, eat dirt, yeah when you fell in it from playing football, roller-skated down a hill ,,, NO BRAKES, sledded down an icy hill,… LOOK OUT BELOW, Jumped of that wall,,, SNAP, there goes the leg, rode bikes with no helmets, oh the road rash, SAT IN THE BACK OF PICKUP TRUCKS WHILE MOVING, air surfing, rolled down a hill , WHO PUT THAT ROCK THERE, eat berries of the vine,,, OH MY STOMACH, played hide n seek,,,, HIDING UNDER THE CAR NOT SO GOOD. Clobbered your sister on the head and ran like hell,,, WHAT SHE FEEL INTO MY HAND,,, WASN’T MY FAULT…we grew up with some of the most violent cartoons and shows, shows that just well would not be part of today,,, go back and watch them we thought they were the coolest , and yes we grew up fine , WHY because our parents explained to us its all fake and its just TV and not to be imitated…. So if SPONGEBOB is bad then what’s really good, mindless go no where sitcoms, Hell video games can be worse,, Just limit the stuff, gee some people just need to get a life,,, Now ,,, WHO WANTS A CRABBY PATTY,,,,,,,,,,,,,HAHAHAH HAHAH HAHAHAH AHAHHA AHAHAHAH HAHAHAH AHAHAHA HAHAHA HAHAHAHA .. “ THAT’S ALL FOLKS”’

  7. emom says:

    It’s Wabbit season, and I’m hunting wabbits, so be vewy, vewy quiet!
    “OH DARLA”
    Just a few quotes we grew up on as kids,,,,

  8. emom says:

    There stupid smart filter,,,,, IT’S JUST CARTOON QUOTES,,,,,,

  9. Ed dracut says:

    OK someone tell how I can get paid to do a iddoic study like this? I have a good one. You always see trailer parks devistated by tornados. Maybe aluminum is a magnet for them? OK that’s my research project. So where do I get the money for the research? I am guessing $10,000,000 will do it and about 5 years of study. Perhas I may need more funding is 4 or so years to complete my research.

    1. Hm... says:

      A good first step towards “getting paid to do iddoic studies like this” would be learning how to wrote and spell properly such that you can complete your education past your current 5th grade level.

      1. Ed dracut says:

        Sorry teach. Buss a work. Can’t always proof read.

  10. KF4766 says:

    First of all, nine minutes of Spongebob is about 8 and half minutes to much for ANYBODY to take, second of all this show is rated for 7 years old, why do a study involving 4 year olds

  11. emom says:

    How about an idiotic study of What the GOVERNMENT does with our tax dollars,,, That should be a grand study,, I will need to hire at least 1000 folks,, should help stimulate things, I will need a company car,, no make that at least a fleet of 20. I need a large office , no a building , with the last electronic equipment. Can I get an oak desk and leather couch, A meal budget to take my employees out for lunch, oh say top of the hub, a BUDGET of $100,000,000.00 to start off with.. The best health insurance, and in about 5 years redo the contract for another 5 years and another 500 employees since its a lot of work OH WAIT , that’s a good study.. will never happen. WHERES, YOSEMITE SAM, HE WILL FIX THESE VARMITS UP AND FAST.

  12. Michelle says:

    But selling alcohol and cigarettes is acceptable, right!?

    Once again these sad idiots LOSE, with their outrageous and illogical claims! Get a grip, and better yet, GET A LIFE ===>

  13. Nosgood4me says:

    The story and study is Excrement.

  14. cc says:

    it’s amazing that this story has more comments from a bunch of nuts wanting to save a stupid children’s program that offers nothing to help develop a child’s brain just dribble that obviously causes them to be dumber(you don’t need a study to prove this, watch the show once or twice it offers nothing to nurture a developing mind) than a story that means something to people. You all have your priorities straight, I see.

  15. bp says:

    My kid has been growing up with Sponge Bob and the gang. He is in an honors program now. What is it with these studies?

    1. TRUTH says:

      Agreed. My son is 5. Grew up with SB which we watch religiously to this day. He had 2 years of pre-school, just started Kindergarten Monday, and is excelling in school, and his Karate class. More irrelevant BS. They should do a study about how the Left wing media did absolutely NOTHING to vet our Commander in chief, but that would be too useful.

  16. emom says:

    I suppose older teens and young adults, watching programs that show a man or women dating a bunch of people shows morals and great relationship issues, or watching shows with tons of explosions or sex is good for them Oh many sit and watch mindless adult sitcoms, and believe its real life., I cant tell you how many people that live for such shows, Sure its good for comic relief,, hell living in this world we need some stupid comic relief, There are so many great programs on TV. But to simply believe its hurting the kids minds, well,, I think these PEOPLE need to get a life.. Bet they are boring pencil pushers, looking at numbers and sitting in the basements of their parents, never venturing out to see sunlight and eating out of cereal boxes and drinking endless bottles of soda,,,, and playing war games and other video games, Yeah ….LOONEY TUNES MESSED UP AMERICA, FLINTSTONES DROVE US TO THE STONE AGE, JETSONS CATAPULTED US TO SPACE, AND ROMPER ROOM WELL SHOWED US HOW TO GARDEN WITH MR GREEN JEANS… Bonanza had fights with guns, Dukes of Hazard showed us how to race cars and jump them, oh not to mention how to wear them daisy duke shorts , Star Trek boldly showed us the future, Gun Smoke well guy on horse back toting a rifle, still many of today’s adults turned out just fine,,, these guys are a bunch if knuckleheads , where’s moa when you need to SPREAD these fools out.. Please are short sighted when it comes to this ,, I mean , How many other things will they take of the air, off the shelves, out of our lives, all because someone somewhere believes it’s not FIT for our lives,,, Gee does Snow White, Cinderella, and a few other stories sound familiar… they also believe those stories are unhealthy for kids to read, what next OH YELLER… gee its only a story , not real, IT’S MAKE BELIEVE, Cant people tell the difference,, or are we so muddled down with clouded vision..

  17. mbinme says:

    Seriously CC?!?!?!?! Wow.
    I’m an early childhood educator and find the comments to be more absurd than the results of the study. Take your children outside and actually get in some physical activity and use some imagination.

    1. cc says:

      seriously what? I am saying people actually fighting over this inane show is ridiculous.

  18. Cartoon Corky King of the Circus says:

    Me spongebob likee my underwear

  19. emom says:

    Where’s sandy cheeks,, she might have a scienctific answer for folks… really.. IT”S a stupid show, big deal,,live it up and enjoy.. GEE…. Like the bachlorette or bachlor show are great. hahahahah

  20. cc says:

    I don’t think anyone is saying adult television is any better, but there’s a pretty big difference in kids watching a show with no value vs. adults watching a show with no value. Kids brains are still developing, why don’t you take them outside or have them use their imagination rather than parking their butts in front of the tv to watch a show where they are learning nothing but how to have attention span issues. and heres comes the “WE WERE RAISED THAT WAY AND WE’RE JUST FINE” because crime rates aren’t high and the world isn’t in shambles.. hahaha.

  21. Steve says:

    Hmmm They should do a study about how the welfare system has kept blacks enslaved in the ghetto. But that would be too useful.

  22. ttval says:

    Spongebob is blocked on my tv because he is obnoxious, Calliou is blocked because he is a brat, Ni Hao Kai Lan is also blocked because when the characters get mad they throw things, ICarly is blocked because even though it is rated for 7 and up which my oldest daughter is, it does have kissing and boyfriends and Sam is obnoxious. My kids are brilliant, but they mimic these behaviors without realizing it. There are plenty of other things to watch. These shows aren’t essential. If my kids don’t like it, too bad. It’s called parenting. Also when I was a kid we had Saturday morning cartoons, not tv 24/7. It is not a crime to limit your childrens tv time. My kids have lessons, sports, and books, and they are better for it.

  23. Caroline says:

    What if we broaden the study and apply it to people in general, rather than just children. We live in a world where news is streming 24/7, commercials are short thirty second blurbs, music videos are loud and flashy, and nearly every form of entertainment is designed to provide instant gratificaton. I think we have all become a bit ADD and impatient, because we are unaccustomed to waiting. How many of us get frustrated when waiting the extra four seconds for an internet page to load? Or furiously click the “Skip Ad” button so we can watch a video or play a game? Or huff when the waitress takes three minutes too long to ask for our drinks?

    The world is quicker now, and people keep getting more an more impatient. So, don’t blame cartoons, don’t blame the media, and realize that this is effecting all of us.

  24. tinkerbell says:

    Conflicting research on the subject:

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