The Stroop Effect

Our brain often has difficulty when it must deal with sets of conflicting information.  This is known as The Stroop Effect.  I just recently learned about The Stroop Effect  during a meeting with a local pain psychologist, Dr. Bruce Sorkin.  We were discussing how we can get interference with completion of  a task caused by one area of the brain dominating and inhibiting the response of other areas.  Stroop effects cannot be reduced by training but it is suspected that hypnosis, can totally eliminate it.  This is because of an effect that relaxation (into trance) can have on the anterior cingulate cortex, which normally functions as a monitor for conflicting information and resolution.
Research has indicated that there is a generalized slowing and specificity of Stroop interference in patients with post-traumatic stress disorders and pain.  They have delays in cognitive processing of words associated with accident and pain.  There has also been research over the past few years indicating that pain coping skills, such as relxation exercises, are effective in reducing pain in individuals who hurt. Maybe this result is related to inhibiting The Stroop Effect?
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  • Joe,
    Are you aware if Stroop effect can be changed with training, but how about with treatment? More specifically, if I have a chronic pain patient that would have a slowed response with a stroop test for pain words. After going through an explain pain process along with some graded motor imagery that helped decrease their pain. Would we see an improvement in response time with stroop test for pain words?

    Kory Zimney February 3, 2012 2:00 pm Reply
  • I am not completely sure Kory. From what I understand is that when we give a patient 2 sets of conflicting information, such as the test in the video, the anterior cingulate cortex must work to resolve the conflict in information to complete the task. It acts as a conflict mediator so-to-speak. In individuals who are in pain, there appears to be color-naming delays of words that describe pain. For example, in the study I linked to above, the subjects with pain had a latency in telling the observer the text color of words on a screen which were associated with pain (Ex. throbbing, cringe, sore, suffer, etc.) It is thought that these pain words captured emotional facets of pain, which caused an observed Stoop Effect. Individuals with post traumatic stress disorder and pain had an additional Stroop effect associated with describing text color in accident related words (Ex. totaled, trauma, trapped, etc.). So lets say the word “totaled” was written in blue ink. Because I do not have PTSD, I could quickly name the color of the text which that word is written in. Individuals with PTSD would have more latency, likely because the associated emotional context of the term. I am not sure if this latency improves as pain and stress levels decrease.
    According the Dr. Sorkin, research does indicate that when an individual is relaxed in a trance-like state, this effect is inhibited. Likely why coping mechanisms such as relaxation techniques are effective in people who have pain. Another mechanism pointing to the brains complex relationship with pain.

    josephbrence February 3, 2012 2:24 pm Reply
  • Kory (or any other blog readers),
    Would you be interested in helping design a RCT, multi-center study to examine this? It would be a relatively simple study and I have access to an IRB to approve this…
    Thoughts: We would take individuals with nonspecific, chronic LBP…We would look at a bunch of variables including BMI, pain catastrophizing, kinesiophobia, VAS, etc. as well as the time to complete a standardized Stroop test (using pain as well as non-pain language). We would then treat the individuals with either “usual PT care” ,”usual care + pain education”, or “usual care + pain education + pain coping/relaxation techniques) and at 2- and 4- weeks, reexamine all of these variables and run a regression analysis to look at correlations between pain variables and the stroop effect. We obviously would have to iron out the specifics, but I see this as a rather easy study to conduct and may give some more insight on the brains complex involvement with pain???

    josephbrence February 3, 2012 5:29 pm Reply

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