A University of Otago paper says fast-paced, fantastical media such as Spongebob Squarepants is not harmful for children.

The impact of the pace of media (such as cuts and scene changes) on children's executive function - self-regulation, working memory and problem solving - has been a subject of study since the 1970s.

In a paper published in the medical journal Pediatrics, senior lecturer at Otago's Department of Psychology Dr Damian Scarf reviewed previous studies and found they failed to find evidence of harmful ramifications on children's executive function.

Scarf says parents should not worry about the form of media their children consume.


"Parents need not be concerned about letting their child watch SpongeBob or any other children's programmes that appear to be fast-paced," says Scarf. "These programmes may not have any educational content but they also do no harm.

"Our view is consistent with recent longitudinal work in which it was demonstrated that, when taking into account other factors that do shape children's executive function, such as the negative impact of extensive media use and the positive impact of a strong vocabulary, media form is simply not an important contributing factor."

Scarf, along with co-author Ashley Hinten, says the effects of fast-paced media on a child's executive function are similar to the effects of a difficult puzzle.

"One recent finding suggested it was the fantastical nature of SpongeBob that may have the potential to temporarily tax children's executive function, i.e. young children might find watching a talking sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea quite demanding, given they don't generally see talking sponges in real life," they say.

"It is important to note that taxing the executive function is not a bad thing. You would likely get the same effect if your child worked on a difficult puzzle. This is something we plan to test."