Is Sponge Bob destroying kids’ minds — or accelerating their intelligence?

September 13, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

Young children who watch fast-paced, fantastical television shows may become “handicapped” in their readiness for learning, says a new University of Virginia study.

U.Va. psychologists tested 4-year-old children immediately after they had watched nine minutes of the popular show “SpongeBob SquarePants” and found that their “executive function” — the ability to pay attention, follow rules, remember what they were told, solve problems, and moderate behavior — had been severely compromised.

“At school, they have to behave properly, they need to sit at a table and eat properly, they need to be respectful, and all of that requires executive functions,” said U.Va. psychology professor Angeline Lillard.

“It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child’s ability to concentrate immediately afterward. Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics.”

OK, here’s another possibility: schools are just too damn boring and repressive, and it’s unhealthy to keep kids immobilized like prisoners. Can teachers — who were brainwashed as children to sit quietly, follow the rules, take mind-numbing drugs if they move around, and learn to be good little quiet robots — ever keep up with kids whose minds have been sped up way beyond them?

Here’s an idea: what if we replaced schools — modeled on 19th century factories and churches — with fast-paced animated learning environments using AI-enhanced video games, robot cartoon characters, and educational social networks, so kids can grow up with the ability to handle the wildly accelerating computerized world of the future?

Amara D. Angelica is Editor of KurzweilAI