Forget the Slurpee – try this for full-on brain freeze
The specific exhibit that blew my mind was the one I’ve duplicated below. It’s a “word-color” exercise – technically called the “Stroop Test” (named after its inventor) and dates back to the the 1930s. It challenges two distinct parts of your brain: language and color recognition. When you take this little test you might feel a tug between the two. For me, it was a fairly dramatic conflict that felt almost physical. That, apparently, was my brian trying to reconcile clashing impulses.
TASK: Read aloud the WORDS in Group #1 – and time yourself. Then, read the COLORS (not the words) in Group #2 – and time yourself again.
Most likely, you will see Group #2 takes more time. Focusing on getting the colors right, it took me three times as long to read the “colors” in Group #2. Experts say the interference between the different stimuli (what the words say vs: the color of the words) causes the discord. There are two theories that may explain the Stroop effect:
- Speed of Processing Theory: The words are read faster than colors are named.
- Selective Attention Theory: Naming colors requires more attention than reading words.
I did learn there is a way to trick your brain and improve your time on Group #2: Cover most of each word with your hand (leaving only one letter, or part of a letter) – that way your brain will have an easier time naming the color – eliminating the competition. Who showed me that? Another engaged museum-goer — Alex, age 7.
This extraordinary exhibit continues through August 15th 2011.
To view additional BRAIN exhibition photos from the New York Times, click here.