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This is your 4-year-old on cartoons

In case you missed it, research out this week in the journal Pediatrics examined the short-term effects of fast-paced TV programs on 4-year-olds' executive function – their ability to engage in behaviors like paying attention, holding information in their working memory, solving problems, showing self-control and delaying gratification. Researchers at the University of Virginia randomized 4-year-olds to nine minutes of one of three activities: The children watched a fast-paced cartoon (SpongeBob SquarePants) or an educational PBS TV program, or they spent their nine minutes drawing. Immediately after these activities, the children performed a series of behavior and executive function tests.

The results were... drumroll, please… watching fast-paced cartoons wreaks havoc on preschoolers' executive function immediately after viewing. The cartoon-watchers scored significantly worse than both other groups on all the executive function tests, which included tasks such as moving pegs on a board following a specific set of rules, being given a choice of eating a few treats immediately or getting more treats after a short delay, and following verbal instructions in listening tasks.

The study concludes:

Children watch a great deal of television, and it has been associated with long-term attention problems. However, there is little research on the immediate impact of television on executive function. The present study found that 9 minutes of viewing a popular fast-paced fantastical television show immediately impaired 4-year-olds’ executive function, a result about which parents of young children should be aware.

Photo by Mike Webkist

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