Wow, I just read an interesting research article in my email box accusing high-speed cartoons, in this case, SpongeBob SquarePants, of decreasing the attention span and cognition (speed of processing of information) of children.
The scientists involved in the study measured the accuracy of kids' responses to questions measuring their attention and cognition after 9 minutes of watching a fast-paced cartoon (SpongeBob, whose screen changes every 5 seconds) or after 9 minutes of drawing. They concluded that the kids' responses varied between the 2 groups (were what we call 'statistically significant') with the former group showing giving fewer correct responses than the latter.
This significant result actually does not surprise me as actively stimulating the brain by drawing would, to me, logically, recruit more brain cells to work to imagine the drawing and use motor and hand-eye coordination skills to create it. TV, while it does stimulate the auditory and visual parts of the brain, does not recruit the same degree of neurons (brain cells) and therefore would not significantly improve a child's cognition or attention. In addition, the fast-paced changing of scenes in any fast-paced TV show decreases attention span and cognition in general. I learned while taking my medical school entarnce exams (MCAT) as we were all instructed to watch a movie and NOT TV the night before our exams. We were also instructed to listen to classical music on the day of the exam during breaks...who knows if any of it made any difference in my scores, but I made it through medical school following this advice. ??
Anyways, enough about me...back to SpongeBob! The study does have some major flaws (as do ALL studies!). For one, the number of children studied was small (only 60 children participated). Secondly, the statistics were analyzed "post-hoc", meaning ran a second analysis of the data with some presumed changes and not the originally planned data. This is considered a major flaw. Thirdly, the children were investigated after only 9 minutes of watching cartoons or drawing. This obviously doesn't represent their true TV wwatching habits as most children watch a LOT more TV (and cartoons) than that. And, they may end up drawing afterwards. Therefore, the confounders are varied.
Despite all of these flaws, I find this research to present a valid argument. Fast-paced TV likely does less for the neural circuits in our head and too too much TV is bad for EVERYONE'S health! That being said, if I were SpongeBob, I would definitely have my lawyers pursue a lawsuit for slander!
Have a great day and stay safe,
Source reference: Lillard AS, Peterson J. "The immediate impact of different types of television on young children's executive function" Pediatrics 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919.
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.