Did the cartoons you watched in childhood affect you?
Personally, I blame Popeye for my aversion to spinach.
Wile E. Coyote taught me that my best schemes will have a good chance of blowing up in my face — literally — but I can’t seem to give up.
Times have changed, and so have cartoons.
Cartoons of my childhood have been criticized for depictions of violence, as well as non-politically correct stories and characters that are cringe worthy by today’s standards.
But according to some researchers, today’s cartoons are also leaving their mark on vulnerable brains.
Based on a recent study making headlines, current generations can evidently make a case that “SpongeBob SquarePants” is responsible for the destruction of their short-term memory, and ability to concentrate.
In a study of 60 4-year-olds, children were randomly assigned to either watch nine minutes of a “SpongeBob” cartoon, a “Caillou” cartoon, or draw.
“SpongeBob” typically represents faster paced children’s shows currently available, which incorporates many camera cuts to increase the action and retain visual interest.
“Caillou,” shown on PBS, is representative of slower paced programming that has far fewer visual cuts.
Mental functioning tests were given after the activities, and showed that the children who watched “SpongeBob” performed markedly worse than both those who watched "Caillou" or drew.
Other research data has also shed light on how TV and movies affect brainwaves of adults and children alike.
Camera shot cuts, and shifting focuses and angles, all trigger an “orienting response” in the brain, and has been found to actually decrease brainwaves.
Research indicates that as this response, also known as “involuntary attention,” is continually triggered while watching a film or TV show, the brain will remain “alert, but unfocused.”
Harmful for adults, researchers are even more concerned about the impact to a child’s brain, because the brain is at its most active stage of development during the period of early childhood.
The revelation that “SpongeBob,” and similar cartoons aren’t great programs for my children, was frankly a “no-brainer” for me.
While my kids do watch TV, I am pretty intentional about what shows I expose them to.
This is partially due to my desire for quality programming that is consistent with my family’s values, and partially because I also value my own sanity.
Just a few minutes of shows like this have always left me, an adult, "twitchy," so it wasn’t surprising to me that they could inspire excitability, and interfere with attention span in young children.
There are people who will say, “My kids watch ‘SpongeBob’ and they are just fine,” and admittedly the small study sampling and other factors suggest a number of problems with this particular study’s methodology.
But anecdotally in my own home I generally have seen the study’s conclusions supported.
I have noticed behavior affected by the amount of TV watched and the quality of the program.
As a result, as the parent (largely) still in control of the remote control, we’ll continue to skip over shows like “SpongeBob.”