If you train on Lumosity regularly, you’re probably familiar with our game Color Match. What you may not know is that this game is adapted from an important neuropsychological assessment, the Stroop Test. Here’s the 5 second version: quickly identify the color of each of the words below (don’t read them). Say the colors out loud.
Did you get the colors right? How long did it take you? The Stroop Test is much more challenging than it may seem at first glance — identifying the color of the word is much harder when the color doesn’t match the word’s meaning. The Stroop Test highlights the importance of response inhibition, or your ability to suppress impulsive reactions that interfere with goal-directed actions.
A Brief History of the Stroop Test
In 1935, John Ridley Stroop became the first to publish the current version of this cognitive task in English. Developed as part of his dissertation at George Peabody College, his task became the basis of the Stroop Test — and it remains a widely used neuropsychological assessment to this day.
How Your Brain Processes the Stroop Test
The Stroop Test challenges your mental flexibility — you have to be able to inhibit incorrect responses while responding quickly, a capacity associated with the brain’s executive function. Without good response inhibition, it’s easy to make errors (such as reading the word instead of saying its color). In fact, brain imaging studies show that performing the Stroop Test activates the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — brain areas involved in catching errors and resolving conflicting information. (See “Further Reading” for some examples of these studies.)
Also key to mastering the Stroop Test is selective attention, or your ability to carefully choose what information to focus on — and what to ignore. Individuals with conditions that impact their ability to control reactions and pay attention often have a much harder time performing the Stroop Test.
Training with the Stroop Test
Our Color Match game is an updated version of the Stroop Test and emphasizes practicing response inhibition.
In the game, you’re presented with a series of two cards. Your job is to quickly determine if the first card’s meaning matches the second card’s text color. For instance, the first card may read “black” and the second card may read “yellow,” but if yellow is written in black, you choose “yes.” If yellow is written in any color other than black — blue, red, or yellow — the meaning and text color don’t match, so you choose “no.” Keep in mind that the meaning and text color may not match within the first card, too — that “black” may be written in yellow — so you need to quickly switch focus between the pertinent information from one card to the next.
Banich, M., Milham, M., Atchley, R., Cohen, N., Webb, A., Wszalek, T., … & Magin, R. (2000). fMRI studies of Stroop tasks reveal unique roles of anterior and posterior brain systems in attentional selection. Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of, 12(6), 988-1000.
Leung, H. C., Skudlarski, P., Gatenby, J. C., Peterson, B. S., & Gore, J. C. (2000). An event-related functional MRI study of the Stroop color word interference task. Cerebral cortex, 10(6), 552-560.
Milham, M. P., Banich, M. T., Claus, E. D., & Cohen, N. J. (2003). Practice-related effects demonstrate complementary roles of anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices in attentional control. Neuroimage, 18(2), 483-493.