Fast-paced cartoons could slow kids’ memory

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 8th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Too cold or snowy to play outside? Another dreary winter day during the break from school often means another day spent inside playing video games, watching movies or cartoons if you’re a kid. But parents, you might want to limit the amount of cartoons the kiddos watch and have them pick up a book instead.

Research from the University of Virginia found that children who watched just nine minutes of a fast-paced cartoon did worse on routine tests of attention and other skills compared with kids who drew pictures or watched slower-paced educational cartoons. The study divided 60 4-year-olds into three groups: One watched a fast-paced cartoon about a certain sponge who lives under the sea, the second watched a slower-paced educational cartoon about a preschooler, and the third group colored pictures.

Afterward, they all took tests to evaluate their attention span, problem-solving abilities and even their ability to delay gratification. Those entertained by the sea sponge performed the worst, with just 15 percent of the group passing the problem-solving test, compared with 70 percent in the coloring group and 35 percent in the slow-paced cartoon group.

Curiously, the results were not as pronounced in 6-year-olds.

The culprit could be that cartoons’ rapid animation activates the senses rather than parts of the brain responsible for memory, controlling inhibition and problem solving. The result is sensory overload and mental exhaustion.

But parents can limit brain drain by limiting T-V. The reality is most kids are going to watch T-V if it’s there, so when they do, make sure they watch age-appropriate educational shows, for the most part. Like a balanced nutritional diet, preschoolers need good-for-you, educational staples as they absorb information faster than an undersea sponge.