The Stroop test: how colourful is your language?

Welcome to the first in a new series where we highlight some of the mesmerising and classic experiments in psychology that you can try for yourself at home. And what better way to kick off than with one of the most highly cited and replicated effects in the entire discipline: the Stroop effect!
How we understand and generate language is something that has fascinated psychologists since the dawn of the discipline. And for the most part, we process language effortlessly – chances are you’ve already made it to this point in the article without paying much attention to any specific word. It was the American psychologist J Ridley Stroop who, in 1935, demonstrated just how automatic the reading process can be (you can read the original paper here). The task that he developed was simple: participants were given a list of 100 colour words, and had to name out loud the colour in which the word was printed – for instance, if the word “red” was printed in blue, the correct answer was blue. As control conditions, Stroop either gave participants a list of the same words printed in black which they had to read aloud, or a grid of coloured squares (or in one condition, swastikas) for which they had to name the colour.

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