Nickelodeon Responds to Study Claiming ‘SpongeBob’ Hinders Preschoolers’ Attention Spans

Sep 12, 2011 8:34pm

A senior vice president for Nickelodeon is calling foul on a new study out today that suggests preschoolers’ attention spans are hindered from watching certain cartoons such as “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

In an interview with “Nightline,” Jane Gould, the senior vice president of Consumer Insights for Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group, said the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, didn’t include enough kids in its sample size and that “SpongeBob” wasn’t an appropriate choice .

The researchers, led by University of Virginia psychologist Angeline Lillard, randomly assigned 60 4-year-olds to three activities: drawing freely with markers for nine minutes; watching a slower-paced, PBS cartoon for that time; or watching “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Researchers said they chose “SpongeBob” for its frenetic pace: The show switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, as compared with the PBS cartoon, which switched only twice a minute.

“It made me scratch my head and feel confused,” Gould said. “I couldn’t understand the logic of including a program like ‘SpongeBob,’ which is expressly designed to entertain 6-to-11-year-olds and have that program be compared to a slow-paced educational program for preschoolers. ‘SpongeBob’ is not designed to educate preschoolers. It’s designed to entertain kids.”

Gould added that the kids who did participate were not from ”a diverse enough background to represent the country.”

After watching the programs, the preschoolers were asked to do four different “executive function” tasks that test cognitive capability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so. Compared with those who were drawing and those watching PBS, the “SpongeBob” kids performed significantly worse on the tasks, the researchers said.

“When you look at what was shown to them, they saw nine minutes of a program,” Gould said. “There wasn’t even closure offered to the children who saw the program.”

She added that another bias in the study was that researchers polled parents about their children’s behavior before their kids participated.

“What really surprised me was that these researchers asked parents first to report back on their kids, and answer whether their kids, in essence, have a normal or ordinary attention span,” Gould continued. “You are going to find very few parents who are going to say, ‘You know what, I don’t think my kid has a good attention span.’”

ABC News’ Courtney Hutchison contributed to this report

Click here to read the full story. Watch the report on “Nightline” tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET.

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