Today, animated shows span a wide gamut in the spectrums of character action, pace, and fantastical content. Research question one asked what actions and graphic changes appear most often in modern animated shows. In comparing the frequencies of character action, three of the four shows characters that are mostly stationary; the exception is SpongeBob Squarepants which demonstrates characters mostly moving at a walking pace or faster; this result is consistent with the show’s fast pace. In regards to graphic changes, across all shows, characters physically change most often in relation to space—i. . moving around on screen.
It is surprising that most animated shows, which have a reputation of being frenetic, demonstrated a restrained pace. It should be noted that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a significant number of characters moved around at a faster than walk pace; the prevalence of these movements was second only to stationary characters. Nevertheless, we must also account for the length of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; of the four shows under study, its episodes run the longest (i. e. one episode is the length of two episodes of any other show in the study).
Therefore, it is best to infer action and graphic ratings not from the sheer number of occurrences, but the percentages within the show. Furthermore, animated shows typically fill a half-hour block on air; thus, two episodes of Adventure Time, for example, are frequently shown in that time span. As such, if one were to adjust for a half-hour time slot, it would be more accurate to double the ratings from the three shorter shows in the study than to cut the frequencies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in half. But this reasoning is beyond the scope of the present study.
Research question two asked how often scene changes occur in today’s cartoons. Based on the results, three of the four shows were measured as moderately paced; one show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was rated as being slow-paced. This was unexpected, given that past research was founded on the basis that fast-paced cartoons were socially prevalent and detrimental (Lillard & Peterson, 2011). The expectation of SpongeBob Squarepants as a fast-paced show was not met—Lillard and Peterson (2011) used episodes of SpongeBob that veraged 11 seconds per scene change, while this study found the show averaging a change every 17 seconds.
However, individual episodes may vary in terms of pace, and compared to the other three shows analyzed, SpongeBob is indeed the fastest paced of all shows in the sample. Had a different set of episodes been selected, SpongeBob may have met expectations. While it was expected that each show would contain fantastical content, surprisingly, the sample for Adventure Time contained a total of eighteen fantastical acts, while Regular Show contained only three.
This wide range was unexpected. In response to the third research question which asked how often fantastical content appeared in cartoons, it is clear that, depending on the show, cartoons may have a significant amount of content that appears quite often, or little fantastic content that only appears on occasion. The final research questions asked how similar or different SpongeBob Squarepants was in regards to character movement (i. e. action) and scene changes (i. e. pace). In these areas, SpongeBob is quite similar to its contemporaries.
Despite having more characters moving at a fast rate and possessing the fastest rate of scene changes among all shows, the differences are not significant and remain comparable to the other three shows. * The implications of this research are wide. As mentioned previously in the literature review, Lillard and Peterson (2011) related the effects of formal features such as pace and action to negative effects on children’s executive functions. Further research found correlations between content features such as fantastical content and negative effects on EF (Lillard et al. 2015). It is clear from the present study that the same formal features reported in the past are still present in modern cartoons, if not in the exact same quantity. The very existence of these features relates back to the theoretical foundation of the present study—cognitive development theory (CDT) and its relation to executive function (EF). There remains a biological and cognitive relationship between children and cartoon consumption.
Anderson (1998) connected Piaget’s (1952) CDT to EF in stating that growth in the central nervous system (i. e. he brain) occurred during important developmental periods in childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, research has shown that children in different developmental stages suffer the same degradation in EF after consuming cartoons (Nathanson et al. , 2014). Therefore, if the formal features of cartoons possibly impact the development or effectiveness of EF in a negative manner, there is a problematic system in place where children are most vulnerable to these effects at the same time as they are most exposed to and targeted by animated shows; this is a phase of vulnerability that they do not, for some time, grow out of.
This is a warranted concern. However, it is beyond the scope of the present study to empirically support such speculation. It should also be noted that while the present study is a content analysis, much of the research supporting and inspiring the present study is experimental, and this is where the significance of this study lies. In previous experiments, children were exposed to different TV programs that varied in pace and fantastical content (Lillard & Peterson, 2011). Depending on what shows and what episodes researchers use to examine children’s cognitive abilities, results may vary.
It appears as though even the most popular animated shows vary in terms of their pace and content; therefore, children may encounter programs with wide range of pacing and content while watching TV. Even though the purpose of this study is not to generalize results, it may be that there is no common factor that determines the popularity of the four shows, at least not one discovered here. Limitations There are distinct limitations to the present study that must be addressed. Firstly, unlike in most content analysis, only one coder viewed the sample and coded data.
Bias may exist on the part of the coder, and there is no inter-coder reliability for this study. Furthermore, a small sample size was used not only in terms of the episodes chosen, but the number of shows overall; only four different animated programs were coded in this analysis, for a total of eight episodes. Another consequence of the small sample size is that the two episodes sampled from each show may not be representative of the shows themselves. TV shows tend to evolve over time, as due standards for on-air content.
The results of the present study are limited to the chosen sample. As previously stated, the nature of content analysis forbids causation or generalizations of findings in terms of effects. As such, these findings may not be applicable to other shows on air. Given the wide range of pace and content of the shows sampled, it seems unlikely that generalizing to other shows in any capacity would yield consistent, significant results. In short, the formal and content features of the four shows examined here are not indicative of the features of other popular animated programs on TV.
Further Directions Another issue worth noting lies in the definition of fantastical content, which explicitly excluded the existence of characters as being fantastical. Had this definition included the very existence of a character (i. e. a talking sponge or a dog) or the foundational concepts of a show (i. e. a fast-food restaurant existing under the sea) as being fantastical, every show would be considered completely fantastical and the number of fantastical occurrences in each would be significantly higher.
Future research should not only redefine fantastical content to at least include character existence some of the time, but further parse what exactly is occurring in fantastical sequences. Perhaps a separate scale is necessary to fully illustrate how fantastical content manifests. Given Lillard et al. ’s (2015) research on the effects of fantastical content; this is an important factor worth examining. In addition, a larger sample size should be examined in future studies, not only in terms of sampled episodes, but animated shows and the networks on which they air.
Two episodes from one show is hardly representative of the entire show, and as demonstrated in the present study, one animated program may not be comparable to another. A significant number of currently airing animated shows should be sampled at one time to measure the entire spectrum of content being viewed by young audiences. Furthermore, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are not the only channels on TV that air animated programs for children. Animated shows from Disney Channel, such as Gravity Falls, should also be examined in the future.
Ultimately, the goal of the present study was merely to provide a snapshot of the formal and content-based elements present in several currently airing animated TV shows. Character movement, pace, fantastical content, and the rate at which each factor appears or changes on screen fell under great scrutiny. However, the only common factors present among the shows are the prevalence of characters moving across screen as a measure of graphic change. Stationary characters dominated three of four shows, and only two shows indicated frequent appearances of fast-moving characters.
It is not accurate to say any of the four shows are truly fast-paced in terms of scene change rate, and fantastical content also varies widely from show to show. Again, it is beyond the scope of this study to determine what effects, if any, different levels of actions, graphic changes, and fantastical content may have on young audiences, but there is already a significant body of experimental research indicating the presence of effects. Nevertheless, we can assume from the lack of significant commonalities between shows that young audiences are exposed to a wide range of content and possible effects when watching animated TV programs.