You’re walking down a grocery aisle, looking for a particular item. All around, you see items that are colourful variations of similar products, all clamoring for your attention – but you have to choose amongst the plethora of choices given.

How do you select what you want out of a stack of similar commodities having similar features?
This is when our mind tunes into selective attention. With subtle difference our mind chooses to ignore unimportant details and focus on what matter. (Such as varying sizes or different color or font on packages).

And that makes us wonder, how can we improve our selective attention (or at least use our own nature to our advantage)?

The power of Selective Attention

Considering the same example from above:
Use a shopping list. A shopping list changes the focus of your attention from the items on the shelf to the list in your hand. Instead of wandering down an aisle with lots of distractions, your focus can be on the list. What’s next on the list?
The subtle shift of focus makes it much harder to be distracted by the items on the shelf. Simply because, you’re only looking for a very specific item and the rest doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, imagine you walk the aisles without a specific mission. You’re much more open to having your attention pulled away from the task at hand . That result in a lot of unnecessary stuff in the cart.
This is a classic psychological tool that demonstrates the power of selective attention.

The responses lend much to the interference noted in the Stroop task.

What is stroop effect?

How many times have we had to pause our wail while our parents punish us. Not to forget them kicking up a fuss, “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about!”?
So let me get this straight. We cry because they are whupping us, but they want us to stop crying or they will hit us some more?
Hmm..Confusingly contradicting right…? 
Little did we know that we were introduced to the stroop effect at an early age.

When the brain encounters two stimuli contradicting with each other. It is obligated to make a choice between the two. Apparently, there will be a slowing down in the reaction time. This is due to the intentional reaction trying to first overcome the automatic reaction. This basic struggle to give the correct response is “Stroop Effect
Interference is the delay caused by the competing functions in the brain.
Intentional Reaction is defined as a determination to act in a certain way. Automaticity, on the other hand, is carried out rapidly and without effort or much thinking per se. This often occurs when a behavior has been practiced repeatedly.

Impressions on congnitivism

By using tiny, unnoticeable stimuli, you can make a big impression on your prospect’s conscious decisions. Everyday functioning requires a modicum of ability to attend selectively. Selective attention to relevant feature of objects, excludes irrelevant or distracting features. In the absence of this ability, one cannot concentrate on texting a friend in the cafeteria. Or even listening to a presentation in class, or negotiating the traffic when driving or walking.

This effect is psychology’s oldest and still most popular tool for assessing the ability at focusing exclusively on the attribute of interest in the object.

This effect named after John Ridley Stroop discovered this occurrence in the 1930s.

“Say out-loud the color of the word” is the typical instruction in the Stroop Task. The trick is when green is in green font, people have no problem with answering correctly under time pressure. However, when green is in red font, people stumble because we read faster than we think about the color.

Our brains process the written information instead of the colors themselves. We likely read the words because reading is more of an automated process than recognizing colors. This is having in mind the speed of processing theory. Studies suggest that the brain creates different pathways for different tasks. Therefore, it’s the strength of the pathway that plays an important role.

Two different regions of the brain are stimulated. The right side automatically decodes letters and reads the word. The left consciously analyzes the color.

When you are asked to read the color (active) rather than the word (passive), the brain becomes conflicted – the interfering data of the word slows down your response time.

Studies have also typically found that women experience shorter interruptions than men in the severity of the stroop effect.

The processing

This effect illustrates the way we process information and help us access our ability to override our instinctual fast thinking. The initial experiments suggest that practise can decrease stroop inference – this involves our learning skills, ability to multitask, and how we form habits. 

Directed attention is a crucial mental resource. It enables people to take control of their thoughts and direct their focus where they want or need to. It’s what allows people to safely drive a car, while having a conversation. Or even study for an exam, despite the ambient noise of the coffee shop.

The Stroop test is often used to assess selective attention in traumatic brain injury patients.

There is only so much a brain can handle at a time. It is common for the brain to feel exhausted and lose the ability to be fully alert. But when people are mentally exhausted, they become impatient and grumpy. However, this eventually leads to bad decisions.

There are no studies that prove to the humankind that says this effect can be defeated completely. However, with practise (practicing the Stroop test and other mental workouts), it is possible to sharpen our attention skills. This eventually helps push distracters away.

Say the animal on the picture.

Speak the image loud and not the texts.

Words are serious business

Sometimes, words are overpowering, ie. the word means more than that which it describes.

General real-life applications for the Stroop effect include advertisements and presentations. Companies who make billboard or magazine ads are to be careful about the color and font their texts are printed.

The effect, which may seem minor in itself, is for the advertising world, an eye opener. There is a need to use words or phrases. So that they powerfully and simply evoke a rich array of mental and emotional associations. It implies that the brain, is wired to respond to words on a page more significantly than to any other factor. This is having in mind the influence of educational conditioning,

Services need to be intuitive as much as possible. For which service designers need to understand human intuition. An advertiser can use a word like “powerful” for something that really is not. With stroop, an average viewer thinks that a product, like a small vacuum cleaner described as “powerful,” is different from all others by virtue of its “power.” While in reality it is just an average vacuum. Sometimes this effect can overpower rational decision making and deceive our minds.

So keep the Stroop effect in mind is all that you do or convey. Otherwise, you might just get the opposite of what you want!

For more fun mental exercise:

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