What Does SpongeBob Have To Do With Self-Control?


      I broached the subject of self-control in my last blog. When we can control our thoughts and behaviors (instead of them controlling us) we can lead happier and more productive lives. But, it’s not always easy. The Strength Model of self-control views our ability to self-regulate as a limited resource. When we use it to avoid that extra dessert it might not be there when we see something shopping we really like but know we can’t afford or don’t need.
     This is why lapses in self-control often occur at night or on the weekends after we’ve used up our store of self-control dealing with over-bearing bosses, cranky kids, and a blown rod on your 1971 VW Bug. The good news, however, is that your store of the self-control resource can be replenished with rest and relaxation. Getting a good night’s sleep is good advice after all.
     Well, what does all of this have to do with SpongeBob Square Pants? A recent study by University of Virginia researchers, Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, that appears in the journal Pediatrics found that four year olds who watched a nine minute segment of the irrepressible sponge were less able to delay gratification (the very heart of self-control) than other four year olds who either watched an educational TV show or spent nine minutes drawing with crayons and markers. More of the kids who watched SpongeBob opted for a smaller snack instead of waiting for a bigger snack.
     Lillard and Peterson blamed the fast-paced nature of the show for its depleting effect on self-control. Compared to a scene change every 34 seconds on the educational show, the scene changed completely every 11 seconds during the SpongeBob episode. In addition to its frenetic pace, the authors felt that the regular “fantastical” events depicted on SpongeBob zapped the four year olds of any remaining cognitive resources making them pounce like feral beasts at the goodies placed in front of them. Next week we will talk about the three ingredients of self-control and what you can do to flex your self-control muscle.

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