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Name of Student:
Mak Koon Wing Kenneth
Instructor: Walter Lam
Automaticity – Stroop
Automaticity, conventionally known as habit formation, takes place from
controlled processing to automatic processing. In controlled processing, an
unpractised and unfamiliar task requires more focused attention. Effortful and
conscious control of thought and behaviour with high mental concentration is needed.
In controlled processing, the person can usually perform one task at a time and is
slow, flexible and open to change.
However, in automatic processing, practice and familiarity with a task
decrease the required mental effort and attention. Processing of information
automatically with minimal effort and conscious awareness. The person can perform
several different activities at the same time and one’s performance is rapid and
According to E. Bruce Goldstein (2005), automatic processing can be
demonstrated by the Stroop effect, in which the names of words interfere with the
ability to name the colour of ink used to print the words. The reason the Stroop effect
shows automatic processing is that reading the words occurs automatically, without
the person’s intention to do so. Although reading the words uses few cognitive
resources, it does use enough resources to slow down the speed of saying the colours.
In other words, according to the tutor’s lecture note, literate adult participants have
had so much practice reading meanings of words that the task requires little attention
and is performed rapidly. However, when a task is automatized and habitualised, it is
hard to inhibit and may interfere with other unfamiliar task on the same stimulus
which requires much attention.
In short, when a word is presented to a participant, the participant need
perform simultaneously two tasks, namely reading the meaning of words and
recognising their colour. Reading the meaning of words is automatic processing
whereas recognising the colour of these words is controlled processing. According to
Robert L. Solso etc (2005), an automatic process occurs without intention. In the case
of Stroop Test, participants normally experience conflict between these two tasks and
frequently read the words when asked to name the colours. Reading, a more powerful
automatic process, takes some precedence over colour naming and occurs without the
intention of participants. Besides, automatic processes are concealed from
consciousness and consume few or no conscious resources.
Participants are told to not pay any attention to the word names and simply to
report the colour of the ink. The predictions/ hypothesis of the Stroop test are stated as
1. Participants are slower to properly identify the colour of ink when the ink is
used to produce colour names different from the colour of the ink. That is,
participants are slower to identify red ink when it spells the word blue.
2. Native English speakers experience a greater interference of saying the colour
of the ink when the words are written in English than English-as-a-second-
language Chinese speakers do.
3. Chinese illiterate in English experience no interference of saying the colour of
the ink when the words are written in English instead of Chinese.
What methods are used in this experiment?
The software, CogLab 2.0, will be used. On each trial, the participant will be
shown a word (RED, GREEN, or BLUE) that is printed in either red, green, or blue
font colour. The participant’s task is to classify, as quickly as possible, the font
colour, regardless of the word name.
The independent variable in this experiment is whether the font colour and
word name are the same or different. The dependent variable was the reaction time
between the appearance of the stimulus and the participant’s response. Experimental
design is within-subject design as the same experimental participant is exposed to
more than one condition. (i.e. font colour and word name)
What are the procedures of the experiment?
1. Start a trial by pressing the space bar. Stare at the fixation dot in the middle of
2. A short time later, a word (RED, GREEN, or BLUE) will appear on the
screen, and the word will be displayed in either a red, green, or blue colour.
Your task is to classify, as quickly as possible, the font colour, regardless of
the word name.
3. If the font colour is red, press the h key; for green, press the j key; for blue,
press the k key. It may take some practice to remember which key corresponds
to which font colour.
4. After pressing a key to identify the font colour, you will receive feedback on
whether your answer is correct. If you are incorrect, the trial will be repeated
later in the experiment.
5. If you find yourself making lots of mistakes, you should slow down or make
sure you understand which key corresponds to which font colour. Press the
space bar to start the next trial.
6. There are at least 45 trials, 30 in which the font colours and word names are
different, and 15 in which the font colours and colour names are the same.
You can also discard a trial by pressing the t key instead of identifying the font
7. Discarding is appropriate if, after starting a trial, you get distracted. Discarded
trials will be repeated later. Your data will be displayed as a table and a plot.
What is the background of participants?
23 participants are invited to participate in Stroop Test. All participants aged
below 40 received education of at least Form 5. 20 participants are divided into two
age groups: 20-29 and 30-39. Within each age group, 5 male participants and 5 female
participants took the test. The last three include a young native English speaker and
two old native Chinese illiterate in English.
Result and analysis
The details of participants are tabulated as follows:
Age Sex Reaction time Reaction time Difference in Remark
(name and font (name and font RT (See code
same) different) below.)
24 F 806.5 869.5 63 ESL
25 F 910.7 1034.8 124.1 ESL
26 F 830.5 1058.7 228.2 ESL
28 F 755.8 869.9 114.1 ESL
29 F 863.5 1012.5 149 ESL
20 M 950.3 1015.6 65.3 ESL
21 M 735.4 796.5 61.1 ESL
26 M 735.5 793.5 58 ESL
27 M 746.5 790.5 44 ESL
29 M 946.2 1103.5 157.3 ESL
30 M 869.5 946.5 77 ESL
33 M 765.5 795.6 30.1 ESL
34 M 900.5 1010.5 110 ESL
34 M 867.5 965.4 97.9 ESL
38 M 1110.5 1335.5 225 ESL
30 F 958.3 1010.4 52.1 ESL
34 F 890.6 1105.5 214.9 ESL
35 F 821.5 998.6 177.1 ESL
35 F 1108.5 1306.5 198 ESL
37 F 1144.6 1333.3 188.7 ESL
*23 F 890.3 1198.8 308.5 NES
*65 F 1430.5 1435.6 5.1 EIC
*70 M 1411.9 1406.8 -5.1 EIC
Note: * these three data are excluded from calculation into the following table.
(Code: ESL : English-as-a-second-language Chinese ; NES: Native English speaker;
EIC: English-illiterate Chinese)
The following table shows the averages of various variables.
Age group Average RT (name Average RT (name Average
& font same) & font different) different in RT
All age groups 885.9 1007.6 121.7
20-29 828.09 934.5 106.41
30-39 943.7 1080.78 137.08
20-29 male only 822.78 899.92 77.14
20-29 female only 833.4 969.08 135.68
30-39 male only 902.7 1010.7 108
30-39 female only 984.7 1150.86 166.16
From my data, the following findings are observed:
Generally speaking, the average reaction time (name & font different) is larger
than the average reaction time (name & font same) in both age groups (20-39). This
result is in line with the prediction 1 that participants are slower to properly identify
the colour of ink when the ink is used to produce colour names different from the
colour of the ink.
From the two age groups, the elder age group (30-39) has a larger reaction time
than the younger age group (20-29) in both reaction times. This implies that younger
adults response faster than elder adults do.
Within the age group (20-29), male participants responded faster than female
counterparts. Within the age group (30-39), male participants also responded faster
than female counterparts.
From the data, the average difference in reaction time is larger in:
• age group 30-39 than 20-29
• female than male in age group (20-29)
• female than male in age group (30-39)
• age group (30-39) than (20-29) in male participants
• age group (30-39) than (20-29) in female participants
Hypothesis (1) is true for English-as-a-second-language Chinese in both age
groups and both sexes. All 20 data support this hypothesis, as shown from the greater
reaction time for name and font different than that for name and font same. However,
hypotheses (2) and (3) need more data for further confirmation, as not many native
English speakers or old adults can be located in my vicinity to participate in the test.
The reaction time generally increases when the age increases and when the
participant is female instead of male. Whether a maturer adult takes more time to
inhibit the automatic processing (learning the meaning of words quite well) or to learn
the controlled processing, or both to different extent remains my further exploration
and justification. One may argue that an older adult is more well-trained and familiar
with the automatic processing whose interference facing him/her is larger. On the
contrary, one may also argue that it is more difficult for an older person to learn a new
trick than younger ones.
There are some interesting points to note from the three anomaly data. The
native English speaker seems to get most interfered by the meaning of the words
while deciding on the colour of the fonts, as shown from her greatest difference in
reaction time in comparison to all other participants. Probably, no translation is
needed from second language to mother tongue and she faces greater interference than
English-as-a-second-language Chinese participants do. Unfortunately, only one native
English participant is insufficient in number to support this hypothesis. More data are
needed to show and compare the trend in different groups. For all Chinese participants
who studied English as a second language, the interference from meaning of English
words might not instantly affect the font colour recognition process as a translation
process from English to Chinese is needed. The meaning making process of English
words takes more steps for Chinese. Whether the English-to-Chinese translation
process further complicates and interferes the font colour recognition process, or the
participants translate and make sense of the meaning of the English words after the
font colour recognition process takes place, depends very much on how the
participants process a second language (maybe, English-to-Chinese translation is not
needed!) and make sense of the second language. Certainly, this requires further
Both Chinese participants illiterate in English reported very little difference in
reaction time. This indicates that the meaning of the English words is irrelevant to
them, as they do not know English at all, not even as simple as ABC. They simply
reported the colour of the English words without being interfered by the words’
Taking all these data into consideration, I think that Stroop effect is supposed
to be more prominent for native English speakers than English-as-a-second-language
Chinese do, as the test is conducted in English words. However, English-as-a-second-
language Chinese also report Stroop effect but to a different extent. Another variable
(how the Chinese participants who studied English as a second language make sense
of the English words) may be operating. The proficiency of English, the presence of
translation effect and whether the meaning of the English words can directly invoke
their meaning in the perceiver without resorting to translation do affect, to a certain
extent, the reaction time, but all these factors are beyond the scope of my experiment
and surely need my further exploration. Maybe, I also need inquire their HKCEE or
HKALE English grades in comprehension to testify or falsify the correlation between
their English examination grade and the extent of the Stroop effect!
To get a more accurate prediction from the Stroop effect for local Chinese,
mother-tongue (Chinese characters) should be used instead of English words (a
second language), so that the automatic processing of the meaning of Chinese
characters would instantly interfere with the controlled processing of stating the
colour of Chinese characters by native Chinese, without the need to take translation
into meaning-making process.
Another prediction is that the more the participants practise the controlled
processing (stating the colour of the font), the more such a process approximates
automatic. Some participants even reported that on a few practices, they managed to
press the appropriate keys on keyboard corresponding to the colour of the words
without the same degree of thinking as they initially did. Some even develop the
shortcut or expert knowledge to perform the task, simply by focusing on one letter at
either end of the whole words so that they need not read the whole words to grasp the
meaning of the words before they can state just the colour of the last letter. According
to what they claimed, they reported smaller interference by the automatic processing
while performing the controlled processing, which may approximate automatic upon
more repetitions. In other words, the extent to which controlled processing
approximates automatic depends on participants’ intelligence in acquiring the
knowledge or skill sets to perform the once unfamiliar task (controlled processing).
Similarly, is the reaction time related to the cognitive style or other mental ability of
the participants? This question remains to be answered!
Stroop effect is observed in native English speakers and native Chinese who
studied English as a second language. However, for native Chinese illiterate in
English, the Stroop effect is not found!
1. Goldstein, E. B. (2005). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research
and Everyday Experience. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth; London : Thomson
2. Robert L. Solso, M. Kimberly MacLin, Otto H. MacLin (2005). Cognitive
Psychology (7th ed) Boston, MA : Pearson/Allynand Bacon.