For us interact with the world,
we must understand it. Visual processing is just one of the many ways that we
use to understand the world around us. When we see an object, we don’t just see
its physical characteristics, we understand it’s uses and purpose in our lives.
For example, we see stairs and recognize that they are a means of transportation.
Without even being aware, we have processed and understood that they can take you
up or they can take you down.
Controlled and automatic
processing are two ways in which we process information. Controlled processing involves us to pay
attention and consciously put in effort. Controlled processing is done on purpose while we are aware of what we are
doing. In plain English, we have to think about
what is going on and make decisive choices. Automatic processing does not need us to pay attention. We also do
not have to deliberately put in effort to control automatic processes, it occurs
without us giving much thought to it. If we practice something for a long
enough time, it becomes automatic.
When John Ridley Stroop asked people to read words on a
sheet of paper, he hypothesized that their automatic processing would produce
conflicting mental commands. Stroop wanted to discover which command would
dominate the thought process in each person and if that dominate process would
be the norm for the majority of people. He knew that with further and more
detailed testing he could provide the medical community with a breakthrough
discovery into brain function. His research technique is one of the most famous
and renowned examples of a psychological
test and is now widely used in clinical practices all over the world. The
Stroop Test has been instrumental in helping to diagnose different neurological
and psychiatric disorders. In recent years, variations have been used to help
people increase their mental strength and improve their attention skills.
The Stroop Effect was named
after American psychologist, John Ridley Stroop, who published an article in
the journal of experimental psychology, in 1935, entitled “Studies of Interference in Serial Verbal Reactions”.
He was not the first to publish this occurrence as Eric Rudolf Jaensch
published his article in Germany in 1929. The Stroop Effect can be found documented as far back to works in the
nineteenth century by James McKeen Cattell and Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt.
To conduct his experiments,
Stroop gave participants variations of the same test: The first variation asked
participant to read color words written in the same color ink as the word
(congruent), the second variation asked the participant to name the ink color a
word is written independently of the written word (incongruent) and a third
neutral test in which participants were asked to state the name of the color squares.
All variations of the Stroop Test were timed, and errors recorded. The total
time and number of errors were compiled and studied.
Stroop observed that
participants took a significantly longer time to complete the color reading in
the second variation of the test than they had taken to name the colors of the
squares in the third variation. This delay had not appeared in the first
variation. Stroop theorized that this interference could be explained by the automation of reading, where the mind
automatically determines the meaning of the word (it reads the word
“red” and thinks of the color “red”), and then must
intentionally instruct itself to identify instead the color of the word (the
ink is a color other than red), a process that is not automated.
Different parts of the brain
oversee the processing of different types of tasks. When a person is shown the
word “RED” in the ink color blue, one part of the brain will be reading the
written word – “RED”. At the same time, another part of the brain will be
processing the fact that the text is blue in color. This conflict in information
causes a delay in the time required by the brain to process the information. To
accomplish the task in the second variation of the test, one part of the brain
has to dominate, and at the same time disregard the response of other parts of
the brain. This is called interference and normally the part of the brain that
handles reading abilities, will dominate.
habitual readers, we encounter and comprehend words on such a constant basis
that the reading occurs effortlessly, where the naming of a color requires more
mental effort. When there is a conflict between these two sources of
information, our mental load is increased, and our brains have to work harder
to resolve the required difference. Performing these tasks (preventing reading,
processing word color, and resolving information conflict) ultimately slows
down our response time, and makes the task take longer.
a number of theories that attempt to explain why the Stroop Effect happens.
Maybe the brain reads faster than it recognizes color. The brain may need to
focus more to name the color than to read the words. Or simply, after reading
becomes a habit, the process of reading is more automatic and effortless than
the process of analyzing and naming colors. While differences in theories
exist, all basically come to the same agreement that reading is a simpler and
more automatic task than stating colors, and that when a conflict between the
two occurs, the time needed for processing will increase.
Participants in the original
Stroop Test were adults in the age range of 24-81, with normal mental function
with differing levels of education. Stroop’s studies have found that
interference does increase with age because the mental abilities required to ignore
the more automatic response begin to lessen. However, the findings regarding
gender are more inconsistent, with some studies finding differences and others,