Effects of Automatic and Controlled Processing

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Attention : The effects of automatic and controlled processing

Abstract

The theory of attention was focused on within the experiment, using a modified version of the Stroop effect. The stroop effect suggests that automatic and controlled processing can conflict with each other making it difficult to focus on a particular task. Participants were asked to look at two sets of stimuli which contained words written in coloured ink, colour related words and neutral words. Participants were asked to say the colour of ink that the word was written in. The results of the experiment showed a significant effect on response times between both stimuli, providing further support to the Stroop effect.

Introduction

The environment around us contains an infinite number of sensations, and the human brain cannot attend all sensations at the same time. Reasoning for this could be that humans have limited processing resources. Kahneman (as cited in Edgar, 2007) suggests that we are not aware of everything that is occurring around us because our pool of resources is limited.

Schneider and Shiffrin’s automaticity model (as cited in Gross, 2005) suggests that there are two types of processing, Automatic and Controlled.

Automatic processing uses limited processing power, and does not require conscious awareness, thus making an automatic response. Controlled processing requires a large amount processing power and therefore requires a conscious effort (Attention) to focus on a task. The process of attention enables us to filter out unnecessary information required and focus on the information needed at that given time.

The benefit of automatic processing is that due to the limited resources it requires, it enables us to complete more than one task at a time.

Kahneman (as cited in Gross, 2005) suggests that some tasks (those that have been practised regularly) become automatic, requiring less processing capacity, therefore allowing other tasks to be completed. However as this process is automatic, it makes it difficult to switch off.

The Stroop experiment (as cited in Gross, 2005) required participants to look at a list of colour words such as ‘red’ . These words were not written in the corresponding colour for example ‘red’ was written in black ink. The task was to say the colour of ink for each word as quickly as possible. The results of Stroop’s study showed that participants found it difficult ‘switching off’ the automatic process of reading in order to identify the colour the word was written in.

One theory of the results in Stroop’s study could be that automatic and controlled processing of stimuli within the experiment where in conflict with each other.

This theory has been explored in the present experiment. The experiment used two different types of stimuli, words that are associated with colour and words that hold no association with colour. The aim of the experiment was to study the response time of both conditions to see if automatic processing (reading of the word) has an effect on the controlled processing ( identifying the colour).

The research hypothesis was that there will be a difference in response times between the colour related condition and the neutral word condition. This is a two tailed hypothesis The null hypothesis was that there would be no difference in the response times of the two conditions.

Method

Design

The experiment used a within participants design. The independent variable was the manipulation of colours and words. Two conditions were used. These were colour related stimuli where participants were shown a list of coloured words, the coloured ink did not match the associated word and the neutral word stimuli, where the same colours were presented however no association with the word was present. The dependant variable was the time taken in seconds to complete each condition.

Control conditions were put in place to reduce possible confounding variables. All of the...
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