For us interact with the world,we must understand it.

Visual processing is just one of the many ways that weuse to understand the world around us. When we see an object, we don’t just seeits 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 youup or they can take you down.

Controlled and automaticprocessing are two ways in which we process information. Controlled processing involves us to payattention and consciously put in effort. Controlled processing is done on purpose while we are aware of what we aredoing. In plain English, we have to think aboutwhat is going on and make decisive choices. Automatic processing does not need us to pay attention. We also donot have to deliberately put in effort to control automatic processes, it occurswithout us giving much thought to it. If we practice something for a longenough time, it becomes automatic.When John Ridley Stroop asked people to read words on asheet of paper, he hypothesized that their automatic processing would produceconflicting mental commands.

Stroop wanted to discover which command woulddominate the thought process in each person and if that dominate process wouldbe the norm for the majority of people. He knew that with further and moredetailed testing he could provide the medical community with a breakthroughdiscovery into brain function. His research technique is one of the most famousand renowned examples of a psychologicaltest and is now widely used in clinical practices all over the world. TheStroop Test has been instrumental in helping to diagnose different neurologicaland psychiatric disorders. In recent years, variations have been used to helppeople increase their mental strength and improve their attention skills.The Stroop Effect was namedafter American psychologist, John Ridley Stroop, who published an article inthe 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 Jaenschpublished his article in Germany in 1929.

The Stroop Effect can be found documented as far back to works in thenineteenth century by James McKeen  Cattell and Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt.To conduct his experiments,Stroop gave participants variations of the same test: The first variation askedparticipant 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 aword is written independently of the written word (incongruent) and a thirdneutral 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 totaltime and number of errors were compiled and studied.Stroop observed thatparticipants took a significantly longer time to complete the color reading inthe second variation of the test than they had taken to name the colors of thesquares in the third variation. This delay had not appeared in the firstvariation. Stroop theorized that this interference could be explained by the automation of reading, where the mindautomatically determines the meaning of the word (it reads the word”red” and thinks of the color “red”), and then mustintentionally instruct itself to identify instead the color of the word (theink is a color other than red), a process that is not automated.Different parts of the brainoversee the processing of different types of tasks.

When a person is shown theword “RED” in the ink color blue, one part of the brain will be reading thewritten word – “RED”. At the same time, another part of the brain will beprocessing the fact that the text is blue in color. This conflict in informationcauses a delay in the time required by the brain to process the information.

Toaccomplish the task in the second variation of the test, one part of the brainhas to dominate, and at the same time disregard the response of other parts ofthe brain. This is called interference and normally the part of the brain thathandles reading abilities, will dominate.    Ashabitual readers, we encounter and comprehend words on such a constant basisthat the reading occurs effortlessly, where the naming of a color requires moremental effort. When there is a conflict between these two sources ofinformation, our mental load is increased, and our brains have to work harderto resolve the required difference. Performing these tasks (preventing reading,processing word color, and resolving information conflict) ultimately slowsdown our response time, and makes the task take longer.    There area 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 tofocus more to name the color than to read the words.

Or simply, after readingbecomes a habit, the process of reading is more automatic and effortless thanthe process of analyzing and naming colors. While differences in theoriesexist, all basically come to the same agreement that reading is a simpler andmore automatic task than stating colors, and that when a conflict between thetwo occurs, the time needed for processing will increase.Participants in the originalStroop Test were adults in the age range of 24-81, with normal mental functionwith differing levels of education. Stroop’s studies have found thatinterference does increase with age because the mental abilities required to ignorethe more automatic response begin to lessen.

However, the findings regardinggender are more inconsistent, with some studies finding differences and others,not.

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