Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Impaired Color Word Processing at an Unattended Location: Evidence from a Stroop Task Combined with Inhibition of Return

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Impaired Color Word Processing at an Unattended Location: Evidence from a Stroop Task Combined with Inhibition of Return

Article excerpt

A Stroop task with separate color bar and color word stimuli was combined with an inhibition-of-return procedure to examine whether visual attention modulates color word processing. In Experiment 1, the color bar was presented at the cued location and the color word at the uncued location, or vice versa, with a 100- or 1,050-msec stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between cue and Stroop stimuli. In Experiment 2, on Stroop trials, the color bar was presented at a central fixated location and the color word at a cued or uncued location above or below the color bar. In both experiments, with a 100-msec SOA, the Stroop effect was numerically larger when the color word was displayed at the cued location than when it was displayed at the uncued location, but with the 1,050-msec SOA, this relation between Stroop effect magnitude and location was reversed. These results provide evidence that processing of the color word in the Stroop task is modulated by the location to which visual attention is directed.

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People experience some types of information infrequently but other types frequently. With frequent experience, the cognitive system acquires procedures for processing the information efficiently, so much so that very familiar stimuli, such as words, are often considered to be processed automatically. However, this kind of explanation runs a risk of circular reasoning: A fast response is interpreted as automatic, but automatic processing yields fast responses. To avoid circularity, automatic processing is often said to have at least three features that differentiate it from controlled processing: absence of intention, absence of conscious awareness, and absence of attentional resource demands (Posner & Snyder, 1975; Saling & Phillips, 2007; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). The first feature is that the stimulus is processed whenever it appears, regardless of whether there is an intention to process it or not. The second is that automatic processing cannot be discontinued once it starts, because the stimulus is processed without conscious awareness. The third feature is that automatic processing is effortless, requiring little or no attentional capacity. Although the classical view of automaticity was that all of these features are present if processing is automatic, more recent research has suggested that the features are distinct (Moors & De Houwer, 2006) and do not all have to be evident for a process to be regarded as automatic (e.g., Brown, Gore, & Carr, 2002; MacLeod & Dunbar, 1988).

To investigate automatic processing, many tasks have been introduced in which the stimulus contains both taskrelevant and task-irrelevant properties. Such tasks include the flanker task (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974), the Simon task (Simon, 1969), the Stroop task (Stroop, 1935), and their variants. For these tasks, poorer performance when the relevant information and irrelevant information are incongruent, as compared with when they are congruent, is often taken as evidence for automatic processing of the irrelevant property. For example, in the classic Stroop color-naming task, a colored color word is presented, and participants are to name the color in which the word is printed. Even though the meaning of the color word is not relevant to the task, response time (RT) is delayed when the printed color and the meaning of the color word are incongruent (e.g., red in blue), relative to when they are congruent (e.g., red in red). This RT difference is called the Stroop effect (see MacLeod, 1991, for a review).

The Stroop effect is often considered to demonstrate automatic processing of the color word (see MacLeod, 1991; Moors & De Houwer, 2006). This automatic view of the Stroop effect is based on the following results: (1) The color word influences the processing of the target color even though participants are told to ignore the color word, and (2) performance is not influenced by the ink color when participants are instructed to read the color word (e. …

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