Effect of Reading on Control Process of Colour Naming

3250 words (13 pages) Essay in Psychology

23/09/19 Psychology Reference this

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Hannelore Swain






Former research suggests that there is complication when asked to recall the colour of the ink a word is written in, especially if the text is the name of an alternative colour. The purpose of this study was to investigate the Stroop effect to see if the automatic process of reading interferes with the control process of colour naming. Two groups of participants were either given the colour word condition or the non-word condition, all of the words in both conditions were written in one of six ink colours. The participants were then asked to recall the ink colour of each word in the fastest time possible ignoring the written word itself. The results confirmed that participants took longer to recall the colours of incompatible colour words compared to the non-word condition. The results support previous research on automatic and controlled processing and provides greater evidence of the Stroop-effect.





The concept that the controlled and automatic cognitive processes are fundamental to human cognition has been suggested for many years. In previous literature papers a controlled process is referred to as consciously coordinated actions stimulated by the precise attention and the control of the individual (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). Alternatively, automatic processes are habitual responses that occur unconsciously and naturally. Automatic processing usually takes little or no effort to complete as the response doesn’t require attention (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977; Walczyk, 2000). Research suggests that word recognition for reading is a relatively automatic process (Rayner & Sereno, 1994). Word recognition is a vital aspect of reading which occurs from excessive practice at a young age which results in automaticity allowing words to be effortlessly recognised in adulthood (Cattell,1886; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974).

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The most influential study related to automatic and controlled processing was done by Stroop (1935). In Stroop’s original study he inspected participant’s capability to name ink colours of incompatible colour words. The time taken to recall all of the ink colours were then compared to the time taken to recall the colours of solid shapes. The results confirmed that it had taken participants considerably longer to recall the ink colours of the incompatible word condition than the solid shape condition (Stroop, 1935). The Stroop-effect was the name given to this process of interference.

Numerous researchers have conducted experiments which are comparable to Stroop’s findings. Studies explored how incongruent words written inside of pictures (e.g. the word cat inside a picture of a dog) interfered significantly when asked to label the picture. (Golinkoff & Rosinski, 1976; Rosinski, Golinkoff and Kukish 1975). These studies concluded that words that weren’t related with the picture caused interference when asked to label the picture. Another variation of the Stroop experiment also used the names of colours typed in incompatible ink like in the original study. However, this study used other ordinary words which weren’t the names of colours but were also written in coloured ink instead of Stroop’s solid shapes (Klein, 1964). Klein’s study found parallel results to Stroop’s experiment as participants took significantly longer to recall the ink colour of the words which were the names of colours. It was also concluded that the level of automatic interference was greater when the word had colour connotations. An additional variation of the Stroop experiment also used the same contrasting colour word condition but this time comparing the task completion time to the recall time of a nonsense syllable condition (Hintzman, Carre, Eskridge, Owens, Shaff, & Sparks, 1972). This variation found further supporting evidence for the Stroop effect as participants took notably longer to recall the ink colour for the word condition compared to the non-word condition.

Previous variations found that participants took longer to recall the ink colour of all of the words which had significant meaning or associations to colours than the non-words. The present research was conducted considering the results of former research, and intended to investigate whether the automatic process of reading interferes with the control process of colour naming causing a delay. In addition, this study wanted to investigate if previous finings can be replicated. The present study was similar to Stroop’s (1935) original study, however the coloured shapes were substituted with non-words. Based on previous research it is predicted that participants will take longer to name all of the ink colours of incompatible ink colour words compared to nonsense syllables (Hintzman et al., 1972; Klein, 1964). It is predicted that the automatic process of reading should interfere significantly less with colour naming for the non-word condition as they are not semantically meaningful.





Thirty-two participants took part in the study 20 were females and 12 were males. All of the participants were enrolled on the first year psychology course at Edge Hill University. The age range of the participants varied between 18-21 years old (M=18.59, SD= 0.84). The sampling method that was used to obtain participants was opportunistic sampling. Both conditions contained 16 participants which were a mixture of both males and females.



For the study a between participants design was used as half of the students performed one condition and the other half did the other condition. The independent variable was the types of words presented, this led to two conditions. These were; the incompatible ink colour word condition and the non-word condition which was also in coloured ink. The independent variable for the study was the time taken to name the link colour of the word, this was measured in seconds. To reduce the impact of confounding variables it was ensured that both lists contained the same number of words and also the words from both lists had identical word lengths.



Two Power Point presentations were used within the present study this allowed each condition of participants to see a different presentation. For the incompatible colour word condition 24 words were presented, these words contained six different colours. These words consisted of: red, blue, green, yellow, orange and purple. These words were also written in one of the six colours ink (see Appendix A). Each word appeared in each of the other ink colours once. Alternatively, for the non-word condition there were 24 random letter sequences which were the same word length as the previous condition. These sequences were also displayed in the same six ink colours (see Appendix A).



Before the experiment had commenced participants were informed what the study involves and they were also asked to give informed verbal consent to ensure they wanted to take part and want their data to be used. Thirty-two participants were randomly assigned to either the incompatible colour word condition or the random letter sequence condition to create two equal sized groups. The participants were presented with a PowerPoint presentation containing 24 words or 24 non-words and were asked to name the colour of the ink the words or non-words were written in. The time taken to recall all of the ink colours was measured on a stopwatch.


The Levene’s Test was not significant (p >0.05) so it can be assumed that the variances are equal. The time taken for each participant to recall all of the ink colours for their assigned condition were recorded and analysed using an independent t-test. Means and Standard deviations are reported in Table1. Participants in the non-word condition took less time to name the ink colours (M = 14.58, SD = 2.80) compared to the word condition (M = 18.55, SD = 2.98), t(30) =-3.88 , p < 0.05. This suggests that automatic process of reading interferes with the control process of colour naming colours as participants took longer when they had to read the ink colour of words which were also the names of colours. This proposes that participants struggled due to the distraction of reading the colour word instead of naming the ink colour, this is also known as the Stroop effect.


Table 1. The mean and standard deviation for the time taken to recall the ink colour of the words and non-words.

Time taken to recall ink colours



Non-word condition

Colour word condition









The intention of the present study was to explore how the automatic processing of reading interferes with the controlled processing of colour naming. To examine if there was any interference, the study used a variation of the Stroop interference task. The conclusions made from the study support previous research (Hintzman et al., 1972; Klein, 1964; Stroop, 1935) resulting in a significant difference between the conditions. As predicted, the participants took less time to recall the ink colour of the non-words and took longer when it come to the incompatible colour word condition which also corresponds to previous findings. Due to the majority of participants taking longer in the colour word condition compared to the non-word condition it can be implied that participants would automatically read the word then focus on the text colour as controlled process are much slower (Posner, & Snyder, 1975; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977).

The outcome that the incompatible colour word condition took longer to recall the print colour is in accordance with the automatic speed of processing interference theories and agrees with the hypothesis that reading interferes with process of colour naming (Posner, & Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). A corresponding result was also found in the original Stroop experiment (Stroop, 1935). From the study Stroop concluded that there is considerable interference from the written word (the name of a colour) resulting in participants finding it challenging to name the text print colour. This research supports the results from the present study implying that interference takes place.

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The present study is also supported by other important past research. The work done by Klein (1964) is significant to the present study as he was one of the first researchers to compare two word conditions, rather than coloured shapes or pictures (Golinkoff & Rosinski, 1976; Rosinski et al., 1975; Stroop, 1935). Through Klein’s distinctive conditions he found a significant reduction in the task completion time of words which weren’t associated with colours and nonsense syllables. Likewise, Klein found an increase in time with the incompatible colour word condition and also words which had strong colour connotations. It was concluded that even though participants were informed to ignore the words, they tend to read them anyway. Klein concluded his study suggesting that if the word has significant colour connotations, interference with colour naming will be higher. As Klein (1964) and Hintzman et al., (1972) found that the incompatible colour word condition had the most interference compared to a nonsense syllable condition, their findings are significant to the present study that correspondingly support their outcomes.

It is thought that people cannot stop their reading ability when faced with recognisable words, therefore the incompatible words will produce interference when asked to name their ink colour as people will automatically read the word before they say the colour (Cattell,1886; MacLeod, 2015). The automatic processing theories suggests that automatic process of reading interrupts the colour naming that requires significantly more attention, causing more errors and increasing the colour naming recall time (Posner & Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). Since reading is an automatic cognitive process and colour naming is a controlled process which requires attention and consciousness, the means of subconsciously reading the word will occur faster (Cattell,1886; Fraisse, 1969). This cognitive interference cannot occur the other way round as word recognition does not acquire a substantial amount of effort (Dyer, 1973).



While the present study found a significant difference between the two conditions, there were limitations that could be addressed. One key limitation to the present study is that only completion time was measured. Even though the conclusions of the study can be described using the automatic processing theories (Posner & Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), the increase in completion time might be the result of errors made. If a participant continuously made errors during the task their completion time might be significantly longer. Other studies who taken the number of errors made into consideration found that participants made more errors when faced with the incompatible word condition (Hintzman et al., 1972). It can be implied that the task completion time isn’t a real representation of interference due to the time it takes to make an error and recover from inaccuracies. Klein (1964) stated some of his participants had ‘embarrassed giggles’ which shows that other accidental activities that are not related to automatic interference could affect the time taken to complete the task. This limitation could be resolved if the present study is repeated if the number of errors were recorded to ensure that the error recovery time was taken into consideration when studying the task completion time.

Having another participant in the room could have encouraged the performance of the task due to nerves or anxiety. The presence of another participant may have encouraged the participant to make more mistakes and therefore increased the task completion time. The results could therefore have been interpreted incorrectly as this variable could have changed the levels of performance. To control this variable, participants should complete the task without the presence of another participant. Another limitation that could have affected the present study could be due to human error as a stopwatch was pressed by another human. If the stopwatch was pressed too quickly or too slowly the time recorded may not be the actual time taken to complete the task, this limitation should be taken into account when analysing the results.

To conclude, the aim of the study was to see whether the automatic process of reading interferes with the control process of colour naming. Previous research states that reading is the speed of automatic processing (reading) is faster than controlled processing (colour naming) and can cause a delay. Results shown that when participants were asked to name the list of ink colours the word condition took longer than the non-word condition. Results were equivalent to previous findings that the automatic process of reading recognisable words interferes when given the task of naming a text colour (Hintzman et al., 1972; Klein, 1964; Stroop, 1935).


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Appendix A

Incompatible ink colour word condition

Non-word condition


























Appendix B


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