Behaviour changes that last only a few minutes are hardly a great concern but that is all that the report below has demonstrated. That a fast-paced cartoon might wind kids up a bit is is hardly surprising. Any fun game will do the same
Watching fast-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants damages young children’s concentration and behaviour, according to psychologists. Tests showed that four year-olds who watched just a few minutes of the popular television show were less able to solve problems and pay attention afterwards than those who saw a less frenetic programme or simply sat drawing.
Researchers say this could be because children mimic the chaotic behaviour of their favourite TV characters, or because the fast-moving and illogical cartoons make them over-excited.
As a result, they suggest that parents consider carefully which programmes they allow their offspring to watch, as well as encouraging them to enjoy more sedate and creative activities such as playing board games.
Angeline Lillard from the University of Virginia, who carried out the experiment, said: “Parents should know that children who have just watched SpongeBob Squarepants, or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control.
“Young children are beginning to learn how to behave as well as how to learn. 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. “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.
SpongeBob SquarePants, an animated series that has been shown on the cable channel Nickelodeon since 1999, tells the tale of an “incurably optimistic and earnest” sea sponge who lives in a pineapple and works in an underwater fast food restaurant. Although its surreal humour has made it popular with adults as well as children, it has been criticised by some evangelical Christians for allegedly promoting homosexuality.
In a new paper published in the academic journal Pediatrics, Prof Lillard and colleagues compared children who watched nine minutes of a Spongebob episode with those who had spent the same time drawing or watching a more realistic and slower-paced Canadian cartoon called Caillou.
They found “little difference” in behaviour and performance between the drawing group and the Caillou group afterwards.
But the four year-olds who had watched SpongeBob saw their “executive function” – the ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate their behaviour – was “severely compromised”.
Prof Lillard suggested: “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.”
Crocus drug that can kill tumours in one treatment with minimal side effects
In mice. The approach is however a clever one so it is to be hoped that its toxicity can be controlled enough to make it usable in humans
A drug derived from plant extracts could wipe out tumours in a single treatment with minimal side effects, according to research. Scientists have turned a chemical found in crocuses into a ‘smart bomb’ that targets cancerous tumours. Crucially, healthy tissue is unharmed, reducing the odds of debilitating side effects.
And unlike other side effect-free drugs, it is able to kill off more than one type of the disease, including breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer. Potentially, all solid tumours could be vulnerable to drugs developed this way, meaning it could be used against all but blood cancers.
In some tests of the drug, half of tumours vanished completely after a single injection, the British Science Festival will hear this week.
The drug, based on colchicine, an extract from the autumn crocus, is at an early stage of development, and has so far been tested only on mice. But the University of Bradford researchers are optimistic about its potential in humans.
Professor Laurence Patterson said: ‘What we have designed is effectively a “smart bomb” that can be triggered directly at any solid tumour without appearing to harm healthy tissue. ‘If all goes well, we would hope to see these drugs used as part of a combination of therapies to treat and manage cancer.’
Colchicine has long been known to have anti-cancer properties but has been considered too toxic for use in the human body. To get round this, the researchers attached a chemical ‘tail’ to it, deactivating it until it reaches the cancer. Once there, the tail is cut off by an enzyme called MMP, which is found in tumours.
Removing the tail activates the drug, which then attacks and breaks down the blood vessels supplying the tumours with oxygen and nourishment. Cancers use the blood supply to spread around the body and it is hoped that the treatment, called ICT2588, will also combat this.
The first tests on humans could start in as little as 18 months. If successful, the drug could be on the market in six to seven years.
Henry Scowcroft, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This is exciting but very early work that hasn’t yet been tested in cancer patients.’ Professor Paul Workman, of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the results so far were promising. He added: ‘If confirmed in more extensive laboratory studies, drugs based on this approach could be very useful as part of combination treatments.’