Is SpongeBob Bad for Kids’ Brains?

New study says yes

Nickelodeon’s sure not happy about a health study making the rounds around the Internet today. Researchers from the University of Virginia’s psychology department wanted to find out if TV watching has any effect on kids’ “executive function”—everything from attention to problem-solving to working memory. More specifically, they wanted to know if fast-paced shows have an immediate impact on these crucial skills.

Unfortunately, researchers found, they do. The researchers got together a group of 60 four-year-olds and divided them into three groups: One group watched nine minutes of a fast-paced SpongeBob episode (described in the study as “very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea”); another watched nine minutes of a slower-paced PBS program; and the last group spent nine minutes drawing with crayons and markers.

Then, the kids in all the groups were asked to take four tests to assess their executive function. The kids who watched SpongeBob, well, did terribly. They performed “significantly worse” than kids in the other groups, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Nickelodeon fired back, of course, telling CNN that the study—and how it was executed—are absurd. “Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted demo [ages 6 to 11], watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology. It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust.”

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Go here to read a commentary piece that accompanied it.