Study: Fast-paced Cartoons Impair Kids' Thinking Skills
SpongeBob SquarePants may be bad for kids' brains. Preschoolers who watch fast-paced shows like Spongebob have more trouble concentrating than other children, a new study of 60 youngsters suggests. Researchers assigned 4 year olds to watch Spongebob or the slower-paced educational cartoon Caillou for nine minutes, or to draw freely with markers. Immediately after, the kids took mental function tests to see how well they solved problems, followed rules, and remembered what they were told, for example. SpongeBob viewers performed significantly worse than their peers, according to findings published today in Pediatrics. Only 15 percent passed the problem-solving task, for example, compared with 35 percent of Caillou viewers and 70 percent of those who spent time drawing. Fast-paced shows revolving around unrealistic events are likely detrimental because they overstimulate the brain, making it harder to maintain focus, plan, organize, and control inappropriate behaviors, the researchers speculate. "We don't know how long this effect lasts," study author Angeline Lillard, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told Bloomberg. "It may be that children recover quickly. Certainly, immediately after, there was a strong impact particularly on the most challenging tasks."
TV Watching Is Bad for Babies' Brains
Babies who watch TV are more likely to have delayed cognitive development and language at 14 months, especially if they're watching programs intended for adults and older children. We probably knew that 24 and Grey's Anatomy don't really qualify as educational content, but it's surprising that TV-watching made a difference at such a tender age, U.S. News reported in 2010.
Babies who watched 60 minutes of TV daily had developmental scores one-third lower at 14 months than babies who weren't watching that much TV. Though their developmental scores were still in the normal range, the discrepancy may be due to the fact that when kids and parents are watching TV, they're missing out on talking, playing, and interactions that are essential to learning and development.
This study, which appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, followed 259 lower-income families in New York, most of whom spoke Spanish as their primary language at home. Other studies examining higher-income families have also come to the same conclusion: TV watching not only isn't educational, but it seems to stunt babies' development. [Read more: TV Watching Is Bad for Babies' Brains.]
Is the Internet Bad for Brain Health?
Web users, pay attention: In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, author Nicholas Carr contends that Web surfing is rewiring our minds, breaking our focus and creativity along the way, U.S. News reported in 2010.
"The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences," Carr writes. "It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master." Surveying the latest research in neuroscience and psychology—while mixing in philosophy and media history—Carr argues that digital distractions prey on our attention and ability to form new memories, thus preventing our minds from tapping their full intellectual and creative potential. Though some researchers believe that bouncing around the Web gives the mind valuable mental exercise, Carr worries that persistent multitasking just might "impede our ability to control our thoughts." [Read more: Is the Internet Bad for Brain Health?]
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