Watching just a short bit of the wildly popular kids TV show "SpongeBob SquarePants" has been known to give many parents headaches. Psychologists have now found that a brief exposure to the show also appears to dampen preschoolers' brain power. Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, both of the University of Virginia's department of psychology, wanted to see whether watching fast-paced television had an immediate influence on kids' executive function -- skills including attention, working memory, problem solving and delay of gratification that are associated with success in school. The researchers randomly assigned 60 4-year-olds to three groups: one that watched nine minutes of a fast-paced, "very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea"; one that watched nine minutes of slower-paced programming from a PBS show "about a typical U.S. preschool-aged boy"; and a third group that was asked to draw for nine minutes with markers and crayons. Immediately after their viewing and drawing tasks were complete, the kids were asked to perform four tests to assess executive function. Unfortunately for the denizens of Bikini Bottom, the kids who watched nine minutes of the frenetic high jinks of the "animated sponge" scored significantly worse than the other kids.
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