This probably affects adults too, and aren't entertainment progr ams becoming more fast-paced and fantastic?
Yes, the attention span of kids these days is much much shorter than when I was a kid. Kids in class these days don't pay attention long without texting or talking, etc.
"U.Va. psychologists tested 4-year-old children immediately after they had watched nine minutes of the popular show "SpongeBob SquarePants" and found that their executive function -- the ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate behavior -- had been severely compromised when compared to 4-year-olds who had either watched nine minutes of "Caillou," a slower-paced, realistic public television show, or had spent nine minutes drawing."
Their example is Spongebob -- but I notice most shows and movies these days are much faster paced.
Funny they should use Spongebob - because if you study the programme, it's actually a pastiche of undersea life.
Squidward has tentacles; Patrick is a bit simple (starfish have no discernible brain); Spongebob grows bits back (as does a real sponge); Mr Crabs has eyes on stalks - like a real crab; Plankton has only a single eye; and so on.
None of this is surprising when you consider Stephen Hillenburg was a marine biologist and teacher before pursuing a career in TV.
I'd be more concerned with the world infested by Disney's monotonous output; where kids are invariably sassy and getting one over on their (often dumb) parents. They're always cute, often perfect - even when simple-minded - and never seem to suffer consequence of any kind.
This looks like a bit of badly done research. Children are brilliant at separating fictional cartoons from reality, but like adults, less well able to separate live action actors from real people.
I remember reading years ago that the degree of sustained attention elicited by TV programming correlated with the rate of unnatural events -- things one doesn't see in the physical world, such as instantaneous cuts, dissolves or wipes between scenes, titles or captions appearing or disappearing in the visual field, music starting with no apparent source, and other such special effects. (A camera moving to show a different part of the scene would not be "unnatural", as that corresponds to a person moving in the world.)
Unsurprisingly, commercials had the highest rate of unnatural events. Most actual TV shows were far lower. A show that stood out for having a rate similar to that of commercials was... Sesame Street!
This seems to tie in to the "what's that?!" orienting reflex which demands attention to sudden motions, flashes, and noises. We humans are simply not evolved to have the orienting response artificially evoked nearly every second, for hours on end!
A quote I found from The Assault On Reason by Al Gore:
"An important explanation for why we spend so much time motionless in front of the screen is that television constantly triggers the "orienting response" in our brains.... the purpose of the orienting response is to immediately establish...ll whether or not the sudden movement that has attracted attention is evidence of a legitimate threat..."
"Now, television commercials and many action sequences on television routinely activate that orienting reflex once per second. And since we in this country, on average, watch television more than four and a half hours per day, those circuits of the brain are constantly being activated."
"The constant and repetitive triggering of the orienting response induces a quasi-hypnotic state. It partially immobilizes viewers and creates an addiction to the constant stimulation of two areas of the brain: the amygdala and the hippocampus (part of the brain's memory and contextualizing system). It's almost as though we have a "receptor" for television in our brains."