How many times have I had to pause when my mother was punishing me and saying those words simultaneously? Okay, let me get this straight – I am crying because you are whupping me but you want me to stop crying or you will hit me some more?
Little did I know that I was being introduced to the "Stroop effect" at an early age (and re-introduced for many more years to come)...
The Stroop effect is well-known in psychology and describes an experiment about the time it takes to name the color of printed words. When asked to say the incompatible ink colors in which a list of color words is printed (e.g., to say "blue" in response to the word "yellow" printed in blue ink, "red" in response to the word "green" printed in red ink, and so on), people have a temporary mental block and can't do it quickly. However, when asked simply to read the same list of words (e.g., "yellow" in response to the word "yellow" printed in blue ink, etc.), people fly right through the task.
In most cases, you should have a difficult time with the Stroop experiment above because part of your brain is fixed on the text colors while you are trying to focus on the words. You don’t usually expect things to be so disjointed.
Why should you care about the Stroop effect?
The Stroop effect is really about removing distractions and having consistency to enable efficient completion of tasks. Cut down on all the “noise” that gets in the way of a clear message. It also points to our selective attention, our conditioned processing (for words vs. colors, etc.), mental preference for congruence, and struggle to filter out noise in thinking and working.
As a manager or communicator, your message must match your actions and behavior. Is it “Do as I say, not as I do?” Remember the old joke, “Beatings will continue until morale improves”? It’s difficult for people to do what is asked when they see a conflict in reality.
In product design, pay attention to color, fonts, and graphics. For example, people love to use icons. It’s modern, compact, and saves on translations. Ensure that it truly is universal and easy to understand. For example, we still use a disk graphic to represent “Save” yet an increasing number of adults have never seen a floppy disk. In some cases, text accompanying icons, via hover help or an actual label, may be more user-friendly and efficient.
Your Brand is also subject to the Stroop effect. Ensure that all customer “touch points” when interacting with you, e.g. design, customer communication, collateral, service, etc. are all consistent with the message that you want to convey.
In Marketing, the Stroop effect implies that people are conditioned to respond more to concepts and words that draw them in mentally and emotionally (versus a product). You can see in the Stroop experiment the power of color.
So keep the Stroop effect in mind in all that you do or convey...otherwise, you might just get the opposite of what you want!