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Attention Processing and The Impact of Stroop Effect

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose
    Participants & Design


Considering the stroop effect, automaticity, and the different types of attention- their relationships can help researchers better understand the cognitive processes activated in order to correctly identify the desired stimulus. In recent years, researchers have dedicated time studying attention and the different types, focused and divided. Attention is defined by the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary as being the act or power of carefully thinking about, listening to, or watching someone or something (Attention). Focused attention is one’s ability to be presented with 2 or more stimuli at the same time and are able to correctly and in a timely manner, direct their attention to the desired stimulus. Being able to focus one’s attention is very important especially when taking an exam, reading, studying. Divided attention is the concentration of more than one thing at the same time, also referred to as multi-tasking. Someone who does not have the best control over their attention, one who is frequently divided, tend to have a harder time studying and reading than those who can focus their attention. One can test their ability to divide their attention by trying to pat their head and rub their stomach simultaneously.

One factor that plays an important role in attention is automatic processing or automaticity. Automaticity happens when an activity, or process, becomes automatic. A process becomes automatic after prolonged exposure to process. These automatic processes are what make it possible for one to divide their attention. In order for a process to become automatic it must be fast, not inhibitory to completing the process but enhances ones ability to complete; and lastly the process must be able to be unavailable to consciousness, implicit memory, in order to be full automated. Further, Shiffrin and Schneider’sAutomaticity Theory claimed that an automatic process requires little capacity, little attention and are very difficult to change. The text explained that one of the biggest problems with automatic processingsourced from the lack of flexibility once a process became automatic.

Automaticity can be measured by something known as the stroop effect, which explains why, over a lifetime, college students have automatized the process of reading. Therefore, when asked to identify the color names of the words, response times are shorter. Response times are shorter because reading the word is what our brains have train ourselves to do, implicitly, and triumphs and thus inhibits ones ability to report on the color of the word as accurately and quickly as reading the word. This is especially evident when the color of the word does not match the color name of the word. The processing of identifying the color of an object or word is not something a person does every day, whereas reading is something we do everywhere. When you first wake up, you read the clock to tell the time. Then you might check your text messages, make coffee and implicitly read the name of the coffee on the can, cereal box, milk jug and so on.

So how do researchers and psychologist’s use the stroop effect to test for divided attention and automaticity? There are different versions of stroop effect experiments to test for the stroop effect. Almost all of the stroop designs are done so to test focused attention. This is evident by the participants being asked to ignore the meaning of the word to identify the color of it. At the same time, the stroop effect also tests the automaticity theory which theorized that, a college student participating in a stroop experiment, would have faster response times when asked to report the meaning of the word over the color.

The diagram above, process A is a visual explanation of how automatic processing happens. Process B shows what happens during a stroop experiment. This problem comes from the before mentioned, divided attention. The stroop effect tests divided attention by presenting the participant with a conflict to their implicit memory. When the color of the word does not match the word meaning, and the participant is asked to report on the color of the word, the splitting of the attention is what’d make for the response time to increase. However, because of the difficulty changing an automatic process, the stroop effect is designed to provoke semantic conflict (Cognition).

In line with these findings, an experiment was conducted to test for attention and automaticity. This experiment tested to see if irrelevant emotional facial expressions disrupted other processes such as color naming, facial recognition, and categorization of emotional words. This study tested for the automaticity of facial perceptionand the measure of the relationship between other relative goals and ability to divide and focus attention as well as the ability to be conscious of implicit processes. Their findings found that the involuntary, stimuli driven, processes still provoked a response with little if any attention of conscious mindfulness. Furthermore, this automatic response was further studied that the facial expression in response to the judge emotional stimuli was hardly inhibited. They claimed this to be related to the expertise built up over generations, of humans to be implicitly good at tasks such as those mentioned above. This supports the stroop effect because the stroop effect refers to a persons inhibited ability to report on the color of the word, something that is not automatic, against something that is, which is reading the word (Oxford).


The reason one would be interested in testing and measuring the stroop effect is to better understand their ability to focus and divide their attention. The purpose of the stroop experiment in a Montclair State University experimental psychology classis to perform a replication of the original stroop experiment in order for college students to fulfill part of their course requirements. It also is beneficial to measure automatized behaviors and cognitive psychologist usually utilize the ability to do so in order to gain information on a patient’s back end behavior. The stroop experiments are designed to provoke and measure automatic responses so the psychologist can better help their patient through events, even if the patient isn’t sharing all the information related to the situation. It is hypothesized that the stroop effect that people tend to be faster at identifying the font color when the word name and font color are the same and are slower when they are different.It is also hypothesized that reaction will be significantly slower for the Stroop- incongruent relative to the control-congruent condition.


Participants & Design

For each trial, participants were shown a word (RED, GREEN, or BLUE) that was printed in either red, green, or blue font color. Their task was to classify, as fast as they could, the font color, regardless of the word name.The independent variable in this experiment was whether the word name and font color were the same or different. The dependent variable was the response time between the appearance of the stimulus and your response. Only trials in which you made the correct classification were kept. If a trial was incorrect, it was repeated later in the experiment.Eighteen upper level undergraduate Psychology students from Montclair State University participated in the experiment as a part of course credit for their Experimental Psychology course. All participants spoke English fluently and the majority of the participants were female (15 females and 3 males).


The participants used an automated version of the Stroop task on the Cog Lab 2.0 CD-ROM run on Lenova desktops running Windows 7. Participants entered a climate controlled computer laboratory and performed the experimental program. The program ran at least 45 trials, 30 with incongruent conditions (font color is different from meaning of word) and 15 with the congruent condition (font color matches the meaning of the word) in random order. Start a trial by pressing the space bar. A fixation dot appeared in the middle of the window for the participant to stare at it. Shortly after a word red, green, blue, will appear on the screen, and the word will be printed in red, green, or blue. Your task is to classify the color of the font as quickly as possible, regardless of the actual word.After pressing a key to identify the font color, you will receive feedback on whether you were correct. If you were incorrect, the trial will be repeated later in the experiment. If you find you are making lots of mistakes, you should slow down or make certain you understood which key goes with which font color.Reaction time was recorded automatically and the program calculated the mean for the individual. All individual mean reaction time was analyzed for both conditions by using SPSS.


Although not large in terms of absolute time, the Stroop effect is very robust. A common explanation for the Stroop effect is that participants (especially college undergraduates) have automatized the process of reading. Thus, the color names of the words are always processed very quickly, regardless of the color of the font. On the other hand, identifying colors is not a task that participants have to report on very often, and, because it is not automatized, it is slower. The fast, and automatic, processing of the color name of the word interferes with the reporting of the font color.

This experiment was also limited to college-aged students. For example, they do not factor in people with cognitive impairments such as ADD or ADHD. In one article it explains that there is a statistically significant difference found inmean T scores for all clinical groups tested (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], reading disability, autism, and cognitive delay groups). The interference effect was also greater in all groups except ADHD. (Koch) This finding leaves the door for further discussion to understand how significant of a difference is there between a participant who has a cognitive impairment, such as ADHD verse someone who does not suffer from that.

There also have been hypothesis that men are better at stroop experiments then women. This study did not test the gender role in this experiment. In future experiments it would be important to at least measure the distinction between male and female. In one experiment results showed a significant different between women on their menstrual cycle verse when they’re not. Levels of estradiol and progesterone, effect a woman’s performance with stroop experiments. A direct quote from the articles says “That sex-related hormone modulation selectively affects cognitive functions depending on the type of task and low level secretion of estradiol appears to contribute to reducing the level of attention that relates to the prefrontal cortex.” (Hormones).

In conclusion, it is very evidence and support that in a majority of circumstances, participants in stroop experiments will experience the stroop effect. Processes that are done repeatedly, on a frequent basis become automatic processes

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Attention Processing and the Impact of Stroop Effect. (2019, January 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
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