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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10 Responses to What Does SpongeBob Have To Do With Self-Control?

  1. Austin Smith says:

    Great article. Finding out ways to deal with our human nature may be tough, but with a little outside the box thinking we should be able to get it done. Working with Spongebob would probably make most people behave differently though.

  2. Suzanna Nelson says:

    I just don’t get how kids can watch Spongebob… It’s loud, bright, overwhelming, and so much going on all at once but none of it has relevant or worth-while content. No wonder why those children had the control issues. There’s no control in the show…

  3. jim_roberts says:

    You’re right. The content of SpogeBob is such that it whips its viewers into a frenzy that leaves little room for self-control. And, this is after only nine minutes of watching SpongeBob. The average American watches about 4-5 hours of TV a day.

  4. ,I rarely sit down to watch TV anymore, and thanks to Hulu I can still watch my shows. Because TV isn’t a huge part of my life, I never thought I would consider having a strict limit to TV time when I have kids. In light of all the studies I read about the negative effects of TV time for kids, I think I will more conscious about it and continue to read studies.

    -Catherine Teegardin

  5. jim_roberts says:

    Great idea about kids and TV. For the most part, with some exceptions, TV has a negative impact on kids. We know the more TV they watch the more prodyct requests they make. Additionally, TV viewing has been tied to higher levels of materialism – it’s all those commercials and shows that depict everyone has having all the luxuries life has to offer. A very idyllic picture of real life for the rest of us working stiffs. And to top it all off, kids who watch a lot of TV are heavier, more aggressive, and poorer students. As you suggest, monitoring and limiting TV watching among your children will pay wonderful dividends.

  6. mike Guillory says:

    This is really interesting, I never would have realized that Spongebob had a direct influence on self-control. Do advertisers try to place more ads during this show so that kids will be more prone to asking for it?

  7. Kinsey says:

    I think this is very interesting because it explains a lot about how a persons environment affects their decision-making behavior. I watched Spongebob and even my dad thinks it’s pretty amusing. Its incredible how small things that are so subtle impact us so greatly!

  8. Lindsey says:

    This is so interesting to me! I’ve never thought about Spongebob having that effect on kids, but now that I’ve read it, I can definitely see how it could affect their self-control. I will definitely take this into consideration in the future when I decide what my children will watch.

  9. Haley Pfaff says:

    This is so interesting. I knew tv greatly influenced kids, but I never thought about the specifics. I’ve always known my kids aren’t going to watch much, (kids need to get outside more!) but now I know I should probably put some time into researching certain shows before blinding flipping on the tv and letting them mindlessly watching shows that could be affecting them more than we all realize.

  10. Derek Lewis says:

    I watched spongebob when I was younger but I was much older than four years old. I never really realized how quickly the scene changes were back then but im sure if I would look back on it now I could easlily reconize it being a Media Busisness major and studying films. I am a strong believer that kids when there are growing up should watch educational shows such as the iconic Sesame Street that you know for a fact does well for children and has been on the air for over 50 years now.

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