The concept of automaticity implies thoughts followed by actions that do not require monitoring or conscious guidance. Automaticity allows us to perform such tasks, as walking, taking a shower, driving to work without having to think about these things. Components of automaticity are to some extent integrated into the majority of our thoughts and behaviors. These automatic processes allow us to get things done fast and efficiently. Some types of automatic behaviors do not require a conscious stimulus to get started, whereas others are triggered by a conscious signal. Concerning driving, this process becomes automatic after gaining a certain amount of experience. When such a driver is given a set of signals or stimuli, he responds immediately. For example, when he sees blinking rear stop lights, or a traffic light turning yellow he automatically slows down without any conscious intention.
In the current fictional scenario, I was subjected to conscious automatic behavior. I was perfectly aware of what I had to go through at the outset of my trip. I knew exactly that I needed to get home from work, and consciously got in the car and started driving, although I was not feeling too enthusiastic about the 1-hour trip, as I had a long stressful day. Since, I have driven home from work after such days so many times, that I did not need to think about the process itself, after I have intentionally launched it. When I learned driving, I used to ponder about all my actions, considering every small detail. However, after a significant amount of repetition, the frequently done practice became unconscious. This included all components of driving that did not require conscious monitoring any longer, and in other words, became conditioned reflexes. The habit of stopping for the top light as well as moving along with the bottom light was also carried out at the level of automaticity. Besides, the principal of automatic behavior also influenced the top light to be recognized as red required a stop and the bottom one – as green that permitted movement. The constant practice of driving led to a mental behavioral repackaging, that caused all detail of the process to be combined into a sequence. Only a brief thought was required to set off this sequence, and when I saw the bottom light switch on, it was automatically recognized by this brief though as green, even though the color of it was red.
Such experiences are remembered very little, as they are being carried out at an automatic level. For example, the driving was pretty much unconscious, until the brain realized the fact of its wrong actions, however, it might have been too late.
When an individual sees words that indicate colors (green, blue, red) printed in letters, which are of a different color, he pronounces the words at a slower pace and is more likely to make mistakes, compared to the situation where the words are of the same color that determines their semantic meaning. This phenomenon is called the Stroop effect. This effect revealed itself in the situation discussed above, as I (the driver) followed a similar pattern. When the traffic light had switched to red, I automatically considered it to be green. In the absence of prior context, when shaping an object recognition task, I simply ignored the color required to percept the stimulus. The phenomenon of Stroop effect is widely implicated in testing alertness. For example, in clinical practice it is required to test individual alertness in order to diagnose psychological disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by unusually low level of alertness and very high distractibility.
The Stroop test can also be applied by police officers in order to measure alertness of the drivers. This methodology may help reveal those drivers with medical conditions that do not qualify to operate vehicles due to individual pathology. Stroop test may be also useful for revealing violators that are driving under the influence, as some psychotropic substances tend to lower the level of alertness. Another useful application of this effect may be teaching a child to recognize primary colors, through the process of associative thinking. The names of the colors could be written with the color of the ink corresponding to the semantic meaning of the color, this way the child would learn how to interpret certain words, and associate them with their meaning. If a person has a poor reading ability, he is likely to make fewer mistakes during the Stroop test, as during the reading process he has to think about everything in detail, concentrating on the meanings of the words, whereas a person with better reading abilities will do worse on this test.
Näätänen, R. (1992). Attention and Brain Function. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Siegrist, M. (1997). Test-Retest Reliability of Different Versions of the Stroop Test. Journal of Psychology, 131(3), 299-306.