An Experiment Into the Stroop Effect

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The aim of my research was to study automatic processes by replicating the previously carried out Stroop effect. The participants, 20 Richmond College students (10 boys and 10 girls) chosen by an opportunistic sample were taken into a quiet room separately, were presented with 6 lists of words, out of which 3 were congruent and the other 3 incongruent and the time taken for each participant to name the colour that the words were written in was measured and recorded. From this repeated measures design, the results were that participants took a considerably longer to name the colour in the incongruent words than the congruent words. This corresponded to earlier research carried out by Stroop and the results were highly significant to a 5% significance level and a critical value of 60. In conclusion, it can be said that the powerfully autonomic nature of reading words, as it is such a well-learned automatic activity does interfere with other tasks.


Attention is a system, which allows us to select and process certain significant incoming information. Selective attention refers to the ability to focus on one task at a time whilst excluding any eternal stimuli, which may be distracting. Whereas divided attention refers to the ability to divide ones attention between two or more tasks. If one of these tasks becomes an automatic process it becomes easier to divide ones attention between these two tasks.

However, sometimes rather than being helpful, interference can occur between the controlled process and the automatic process.
Psychologists have frequently found that the powerfully autonomic nature of reading words, as it is such a well-learned automatic activity can interfere with other tasks. This idea has been researched by a number of researchers.

Kanheman (1973) devised a model of divided attention, which was based around the idea of mental effort. He proposed that some tasks might be relatively autonomic; so make fewer demands in terms of mental effort, such as a reading task. Several activities can be carried out at the same time, provided that their total effort does not exceed the available capacity. So usually an autonomic task will not require much mental effort and so often can be carried out automatically.

Shiffrin and Schneider (1977) looked into automatic processing in a lot of detail and identified some of its features in comparison with controlled processes.

The typical piece of research carried out consisted of participants being required to search for specific letters (target items) amongst an array of digits (distracter items). For instance, participants were asked to spot as quickly as possible letters from B-L (target items) within the part of the alphabet from Q-L (distracter items). After 2001 trials, the participants were able to spot the target items extremely quickly without having to think about the alphabet each time.

Now in the second part of the experiment, the target items and distracter items were swapped around which meant that the previously learnt task of spotting letters from B-L changed into having to spot letters from Q-L. Shiffrin and Schneider found that the time taken for them to carry out this task significantly increased. This is because the already learned, automatic process was very difficult to change, which shows how automatic processes are fixed and rigid and after practise can become automatic.

Shiffrin and Schneiders research was based on visual rather than auditory tasks, so Poltrock et al. (1982) carried out an auditory detection task, which also had the same results.

Healey (1976) carried out research into how we automatically process frequently occurring words such as “of” in sentences and so find it harder to focus on component letters. She presented participants with a piece of...
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