Lead investigator Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, and co-author Jennifer Peterson, a graduate student, said similar results were not observed in 4-year-olds who watched 9 minutes of "Caillou," a slower-paced, realistic public television show, or after 9 minutes of drawing.
"At school, children 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," Lillard said in a statement. "If a child has just watched a television show that has handicapped these abilities, we cannot expect the child to behave at their normal level in everyday situations."
Lillard said the fast-paced and fantastical program such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" may hurt childrens' ability to learn or practice self control.
"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," Lillard said.
"Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics."
The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.