The Stroop Effect and Attention: Effect of Automatic and Controlled Processing on the Performance of a Colour Identification Task.

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The Stroop effect and attention: Effect of automatic and controlled processing on the performance of a colour identification task.


The present experiment aimed to carry out a modification of the experiment on automatic processes carried out by Stroop and to discover whether automatic processing could intrude on a colour identification task. Stoop’s original research found that the response time reading the colour of the ink of the words describing different colour was greater than reading the colour of the ink of neutral words. The present experiment was to retest the Stroop effect, and to quantify the intrusion of automatic processing. The results showed that the time to read the ink colour of colour-associated words was greater than that of the neutral words and suggested that involuntary interference of automatic process could effect people’s attention during controlled task.


Attention is a system, which allows us to select and process certain significant incoming information. Selective attention helps us to focus on one task at a time, excluding any external stimuli, which may be distracting. Divided attention refers to the ability to divide ones attention between two or more tasks. If some processing activities become automatic as a result of prolonged practice it becomes easier to divide ones attention between these two tasks. Automatic processes are believed to be fast, require no attention and are unavoidable. However, interference can occur between the controlled process and the automatic process. Reading words, as an automatic activity can interfere with other tasks. Many psychologists studied the idea of attention as a process of selection. Kahneman (1973) suggested that within the brain there is some sort of limited-capacity central processor, responsible for analysing incoming information and integrating it with information already held in memory. He proposed that some tasks, such as reading task, once automatic require less mental effort. So several activities can be carried out at the same time, provided that their total effort does not exceed the available capacity. Broadbent (1954, 1971) suggested a bottleneck theory of attention that there must be some “bottleneck” in the attentional system and that only a small amount of the available sensory information will pass through this bottleneck. This supports Kahneman’s notion that we only ave limited resources for processing information. Shiffrin and Schneider (1977) looked into automatic processing in a lot of detail and identified some of its features in comparison with controlled processes. Their series of studies suggested that there could be other attentional processes that operate in a way qualitatively different from controlled processes. Shiffrin and Schneider explained that reading is automatic and not always under voluntary control and so intrudes on an attended task. In 1935 Stroop published his “Studies of Interference in Serial Verbal Reactions”. Stroop carried out the investigation into autonomic processing and the findings of this experiment became know as the Stroop Effect. In this he instructed the participants to read a list of colour words written in black ink. Following this, participants were asked to read a list of colour words written in conflicting coloured inks and to call out the colour ink the words were written in. Stroop found that it took the participants considerably longer to complete this task than the previous. It was suggested that it was because the unconscious nature of reading words meant that participants automatically wanted to read the words rather than the colour of the ink. Present experiment was using the repeated measures design and a sample of twenty participants to observe differences in reaction times on two conditions. The one-tailed hypothesis predicted that it would take longer to read the colour of the ink of the colour-associated words than the colour if the ink of the...
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