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Discover if automatic activities (EG reading) can interfere with other (controlled attention) tasks (EG correctly identifying colours).

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The research looked at the Stroop task and the interference of two factors, the written word and the colour of the ink. There were 10 participants, aged 17-19, 5 male and 5 female. It was repeated measures design, and there were 2 conditions, the normal/non-conflicting list of words, and the Stroop/conflicting list of words. Using the related t-test show the results were found to be significant at the P<0.01% level. It was concluded that automatic processes, which we are not aware of (e.g. Reading), interfere with attention, and obstruct the participant’s performance.


My research is from the cognitive area of psychology, and more directly concerned with the use and application of attention. In 1935 Stroop found that reading interfered with judging the colours of words. There are several explanations of this ‘Stroop effect’. The task requires the use of attention. Perhaps the two weakest theories as to why this happens are that words are read faster than colours, and that naming the colours requires more attention than reading the words, and so the brain opts for the easiest version until told otherwise.

Schneider & Shiffrin (1977), states that attention can be divided into automatic and controlled processing. Automatic refers to activities we don’t know how we perform, we just automatically do.

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  • 3 normal/same lists of words
  • 3 conflicting lists of works
  • Stopwatch

To compile the normal word lists I created 3 pages (20 words per page written in 4 colours) all in the same font type and size, on a word-processing package. The words were randomly listed on the page (I made sure there were no patterns in the word list by reading them) and were the same colour as the word that was written. I followed this method for the 3 conflicting word lists, except changed the colour of the word so it was different from the written word on the page. See appendix 2 for word lists.


Participants were read the standardised instructions (see appendix 1), after which the 6 word lists were placed face down on the table. The lists (see appendix 2) were arranged with the conflicting lists first for 5 participants and the normal lists first for the other 5 participants in order to combat order effects. When told to ‘go’, the stopwatch was started and the participant turned over the 1st word list. When he/she finished reading they said ‘stop’, and the stopwatch was stopped. The time was then recorded, and this was repeated until all 6-word list times were recorded. The participants were then de-briefed (see appendix 3).


The materials used, standardised instructions and de-briefing were kept the same for all participants.

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However, as mentioned by Logan (1980), controlled processes can become automatic if used repeatedly, therefore if asked to perform this task many times, it could become automatic. Therefore, instead of being under conscious control it would become unconscious like normal reading and require less time and concentration.

If I was to repeat the experiment again, there are other factors I would like to investigate, to determine whether they have an effect on the results or not.

These are:

  • The experimental design. Using matched pairs (matched on reading speed) would control all order effects.
  • A different sampling method. Using a stratified sample would allow the results to be more representative of the true population.

Further Research Ideas

  • Children. Trying this experiment with a small child who has not yet learned to read would provide more data to support the theory, because reading has not yet become automatic for them.


Logan G. D. (1985). Attention and automacity in Stroop and priming tasks

Taken from:



Shiffrin R. M & Schneider, W (1977) Controlled and automatic information processing

Taken from:






Stroop J. R. (1935) Studies of interference in serial-verbal reaction

Richard Gross 2001

“Psychology, the science of mind and behaviour”

Hodder & Stoughton – London                         Page 193-194

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