Explaining The Stroop Effect

The Stroop effect shows us that our embedded knowledge about our environment impacts how we interact with it. Your task is to name, as quickly as possible, the colour of the ink used in the image below. For example, starting from the upper left corner, traversing through the words in each line, we have red, blue, green, yellow and so on.


If you found it hard to name the colours of the words, you were experiencing the Stroop effect. This effect occurs because the names of the words cause a competing response and therefore slow down the response of the target- the colour of the ink.  This happens because, reading is highly practiced and has become so automatic that it is difficult not to read them. This conflict between reading and defining the colour consequently increases the processing time. Mature people often perform better compared to students. This is due to the fact that students’ autonomic response towards reading is very strong.

Not surprisingly, this lag in comprehension among adults with neurodevelopmental disorders like schizophrenia and autism is much longer than in students. It’s also interesting to note that we obtain comparable results to that of the above disorders of the Stoop effect when tested on persons with conditions such as brain damage, dementia, ADHD, alcoholism and addictions such as gambling and drugs .

This test is used to asses various cognitive functions like processing speed, attention capacity and the level of cognitive function. There are many different versions of the test such as the “emotional Stroop test” in which participants complete both, an original Stroop test and a version which has neutral and emotionally charged words. The results showed that, people with anxiety were more likely to experience interference/lag with emotionally charged words.

In the “Numerical Stroop Test” incongruent sizes of numbers are presented next to each other and this will slow down reading time.



This experiment shows us that, incongruent sizes of numbers also contribute to interference, increasing the delay of comprehension. The delay in this test is not just in reporting the size, but also in reporting the numbers.

Automatic processing is not just limited to words, our brain tries to look for normal patterns in variety of presented stimuli and when the brain fails to find a pattern, it struggles.



Bryn Farnsworth, P., Bryn Farnsworth, P., Seidi Suurmets, P., Bryn Farnsworth, P., & Seidi Suurmets, P. (2018). The Stroop Effect – How it Works and WhyiMotions. Retrieved 11 March 2018, from https://imotions.com/blog/the-stroop-effect/

Cognitive psychology, Bruce Goldstein, 4th ed (Click to buy the book)






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