Before the holiday stress fully sets in, let’s play a little game. Let’s test your selective – deliberate, or focused – attention using the Stroop test.

How quickly can you process two different streams of information?

Here’s how the test works:

  1. Prepare to time yourself, or have a friend time you, using a watch or timer with a second hand.
  2. Read out loud the colors of the words – not the words themselves – in Test A. How long did that take?
  3. Now read out loud the colors of the words – not the words themselves – in Test B. How long did that take?

(Click image below for a larger view)


It took considerably longer to read the colors in Test B, didn’t it?

This is known as the Stroop effect, named for American psychologist John Ridley Stroop, who made it famous in 1935. Recognizing colors and reading words at the same time, and then resolving the conflict between their meanings, creates a kind of mental interference that slows a person’s processing time. The more you can focus on just one stream of information, the faster the result.

Want to know how you stack up?

In one experiment, the average 40-year-old completed Test A in about 10 seconds and Test B in about 21 seconds. Times increase with age, particularly for Test B.

Another fun example of the Stroop effect

img-stroop-pigGlance at the image to the left and, as quickly as you can, name the animal whose shape is pictured. Chances are you had to stop and think, even if imperceptibly. Interpreting what a word means is automatic, so overriding “fish” with “pig,” say, likely takes a split second. — Luna Shyr, National Geographic

Need a brain boost?

How 10 Minutes of Mild Exercise Gives Your Brain a Boost

By Virginia Hughes for National Geographic

I’m an exercise procrastinator, as I’ve admitted before on this blog. Rationally I know that daily exercise will be good for me in the long run. But it’s hard to get motivated by vague health benefits that are years or even decades away.

Like any good American I like my instant gratification. I found some today in a new brain-imaging study reporting that 10 minutes of mild exercise dials up the brain’s arousal system, making you think faster and smarter. Read on…