You have just performed a specific selective attention task known as the Stroop Effect. An important perceptual process that Cognitive psychologists focus on is attention, which is a mental activity that allows your cognitive processes to take in and survey selected areas of your surroundings. One specific type of attention is selective attention, which is when people are instructed to respond selectively to certain kinds of information while ignoring other information.
This task was first performed by J. R. Stroop in 1935. Stroop found that reading off the words in the first task took a significantly shorter amount of time than saying aloud the color of the words in the second task. As you probably found out when performing these tasks, just as Stroop saw in his study, it is much harder to name the color of the words than to simply say the literal sound of the intended word. This is because your brain is being tangled in a web of confusion; a concept known as interference is taking place. These words and their colors are being seen and processed, but your brain must make a choice when examining these two features. Perhaps the feature that you believe to be the most important, according to experience, is the one you are more likely to perform more quickly on. Stroop also found that older adults perform much worse than young adults, which is contrary to most cognitive tasks. Since publishing this effect in 1935 for the first time in the English language, the Stroop Effect has ventured to become one of the most quoted and recognized experimental psychology works ever. There are two noteworthy explanations that have been given for the Stroop Effect:
1. The Parallel Distributed Processing Approach- there is interference when two pathways (reading the word and naming the color) are simultaneously activated. This interference causes conflict and a decision must be made, resulting in a weakened performance.
2. The fact that we have more practice (experience) in reading...