Sunday, 7 July 2013

Reading or Saying the Colours - Who Is Better, You or Your Little One?

As part of the "introduction into psychology" course that I teach every year, I always start off by asking the students if they have ever heard of The Stroop Effect or done the Stroop Test.  Without fail, year in and year out, students will initially insist that they have never done the test, and in fact, have never even heard of it.  Then I put this (image below) up on the white board...

Ah yes they all reply, suddenly familiar with what I have been talking about.  Whilst this is a fun exercise to do, it additionally holds some valuable and insightful information into our ability, as humans, to read and perceive what we are looking at.  Perception is not really the point of this post; I would prefer to focus on the cognitive and biological development of the brain instead.  For those of you who are like my students who swear they have never seen or heard of The Stroop Effect, please feel free to do the test now.  All you will need is a stopwatch and an ability to read.  In the first instance, READ the words from the picture above - i.e. yellow, blue, orange, black, etc.  Once you have read them (and timed yourself doing it), SAY the colour - i.e. green, red, blue, yellow, etc. out aloud starting the stopwatch once again.  You will now have two separate scores (recorded in seconds or minutes...and hopefully not hours).  In almost all cases, you will record a quicker time when reading the words as opposed to the timing score when saying the colours.  Now grab your little one and get them to do it.  The amazing thing is that young children are far better at this task than adults.  Your little one will be able to say the colours far quicker than you, and you will be able to read the words far quicker than them.  This is a very clear illustration of how our brains evolve as we learn, taking on new information from various stimuli.  We are so familiar with task of reading that it is such a quick and simple exercise to merely read the words in this instance.  Seeing a word and saying something else (the colour) is far more challenging for us.

Paying attention to stimuli can be divided into controlled or automatic processing.  Many cognitive processes, if used enough, become automatic; just like the reading task.  Therefore because reading is an automatic, well practised task (as I mentioned) it will interfere with the controlled processing requirement of identifying an ink colour when saying the words out aloud, thus increasing the time taken to do so.

On your mark, get set, go...



  1. Interesting. I did not need a stop watch to realize how much faster it was for me to read it. Does there tend to be a greater difference if a person is a particularly proficient reader?

  2. Hi there Larry. Thanks so much for reading - glad you found it interesting. Generally, the more rehearsed one is at reading, the quicker one will get through the list when reading the words. Having said that though, due to individual differences, it is difficult to say whether or not proficient readers will have a greater gap. Students I've done this experiment with have had as little as a seven second difference whereas others can have a minute difference. You've provoked an interesting thought...I'll test it at the start of next academic year (dividing the students up into regular readers vs. those that aren't).


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