Response Time and Automatic Processing Essay

Submitted By CarysGriffiths1
Words: 3042
Pages: 13

A variation of the Stroop effect ; colour identification response times of colour- related and colour- neutral words.


A variation of the Stroop effect was employed in an experiment to measure the degree of interference caused through automatic processing in a colour identification task. Previous research has found significant interference occurs when identifying the ink colour of a word that describes a different colour name. These results have been used to provide support for two –process theories of attention and the costs associated with automatic processing. In this experiment, the experimental word list was manipulated to contain colour-related words as opposed to actual colour names. The control word list remained as colour-neutral words. The results showed that response times of identifying ink colour is longer when the word is colour –related as opposed to colour-neutral, providing further support for two-process theories of attention.

Attention is a process of selection that allocates our cognitive resources allowing us to attend to some information and disregard others. The mere presence of attention processes within our cognitive functioning suggests that we cannot attend to everything around us. Kahneman (1973, cited in Edgar 2007) developed a theory of limited capacity, he suggested that a single pool of resources is responsible for assigning incoming information to that which has already been processed and stored in memory. Yet, even information that we consider basic e.g. another person’s identity, is often disregarded during processing as outlined by Simon and Levin (cited in Edgar 2007) using the notion of change blindness and their supporting research results.

Research focusing on what information is attended to and how information is chosen continues to be the centre of debate with a range of theoretical and experimental ideas suggesting variations of filter systems. For example, the “Spotlight” theory (Posner 1980, cited in Edgar 2007) which reduces incoming information by filtering out any unrelated information, and Broadbent’s “Bottleneck” theory( 1954, 1971 cited in Edgar 2007) which claimed to filter information by type. However whilst these theories suggest that we are able to control our attention, it could be argued that some processing is automatic; an area within which, we potentially have very little control.

Schneider and Shiffrin (1977, cited in Edgar 2007) identified variations of cognitive processing following a series of experiments. They distinguished between those processes that are considered controlled and have a limited capacity as previously discussed, and automatic, those that are not claimed to create heavy demands on cognitive resources. The emergence of both controlled and automatic processes used to explain attendance and selection resulted in the development of the two-process theories of attention.

One of the main attributes of automatic processing is the ability to undertake some basic tasks such as reading whilst directing our attendance to other more complex information. However, is this always the case? Stroop (1935, cited in Edgar 2007) identified that under certain circumstances, automatic processing can in fact interfere with controlled processing which illustrates one of the main costs of such a process. Stroop’s experiment provided evidence to suggest that the participants found it harder to identify an ink colour when the word itself was the name of a different colour, than when words were colour-neutral.
This experiment was designed to retest the Stroop effect in order to detect if using colour-related words in the experimental list as opposed to colour names would cause interference through automatic processing.

The research hypothesis was that participants would take longer to read the list of colour-related words than the list of colour-neutral words. The null hypothesis was that there would be no difference in the time