The Stroop Effect: Naming the Color but Not the Word

Create Your Own Stroop Effect Experiment

Reading a list with the Stroop effect
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The Stroop effect is a phenomenon that occurs when you must say the color of a word but not the name of the word. For example, blue might be printed in red and you must say the color rather than the word. 

Understanding the Stroop Effect

While it might sound simple, the Stroop effect refers to the delayed reaction times when the color of the word doesn't match the name of the word.

It's easier to say the color of a word if it matches the semantic meaning of the word. For example, if someone asked you to say the color of the word "black" that was also printed in black ink, it would be much easier to say the correct color than if it were printed in green ink.

The task demonstrates the effect that interference can have when it comes to reaction time. It was first described during the 1930s by American psychologist John Ridley Stroop for whom the phenomenon is named. His original paper describing the effect has become one of the most famous, as well as one of the most frequently cited, in the history of psychology. The effect has been replicated hundreds of times by other researchers.

For students of psychology looking for a relatively easy and interesting experiment to try on their own, replicating the Stroop effect can be a great option.

How the Stroop Effect Works

The words themselves interfere with your ability to quickly say the correct color of the word.

Two different theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon:

  • Selective attention theory: According to this theory, naming the actual color of the words requires much more attention than simply reading the text.
  • Speed of processing theory: This theory states that people can read words much faster than they can name colors. The speed at which we read makes it much more difficult to name the color of the word after we've read the word.
  • Automaticity: This theory proposes that automatic reading doesn't require focused attention. Instead, the brain simply engages in it automatically. Recognizing colors, on the other hand, may be less of an automated process. While the brain registers written meaning automatically, it does require a certain amount of attentional resources to process color, making it more difficult to process color information and therefore slowing down reaction times.

Performing Your Own Stroop Effect Experiment

There are a number of different approaches you could take in conducting your own Stroop effect experiment. The following are just a few ideas you might explore:

  • Compare reaction times among different groups of participants. Have a control group say the colors of words that match their written meaning. Black would be written in black, blue written in blue, etc. Then, have another group say the colors of words that differ from their written meaning. Finally, ask a third group of participants to say the colors of random words that don't relate to colors. Then, compare your results.
  • Try the experiment with a young child that has not yet learned to read. How does the child's reaction time compare to that of an older child who has learned to read?
  • Try the experiment with uncommon color names, such as lavender or chartreuse. How do the results differ from those who were shown the standard color names?

Terms and Key Questions for Background Research

Before you begin your experiment, there are some key terms and concepts you should understand, including:

  • Selective attention: This is the way we focus on a particular item for a selected period of time.
  • Control group: In an experiment, the control group doesn't receive the experimental treatment. This group is extremely important when comparing it to the experimental group to see how or if they differ. 
  • Independent variable: This is the part of an experiment that's changed. In a Stroop effect experiment, this would be the colors of the words. 
  • Dependent variable: The part of an experiment that's measured. In a Stroop effect experiment, it would be reaction times.
  • Other variables: Consider what other variables might impact reaction times and experiment with those.

Source:

Stroop JR. Studies of Interference in Serial Verbal Reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1935;18 643-662.