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The Journal of General Psychology, 2010, 137(1), 1–19

Copyright C 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

The Hemispheric Lateralization


for Processing Geometric Word/Shape
Combinations: The Stroop-Shape Effect

VICKI S. GIER
University of Mississippi–Meridian

DAVID S. KREINER
University of Central Missouri

ROBERT L. SOLSO
University of Nevada, Reno

SHERYL LYNN COX


University of Central Missouri

ABSTRACT. The authors conducted 4 experiments to test whether hemispheric lateraliza-


tion occurs for the processing of geometric word–shape combinations. In 3 experiments,
participants responded to geometric shapes combined with geometric words (square, circle,
triangle). In the 4th experiment, stimuli were combinations of geometric shapes and non-
geometric words. The authors predicted that it would take longer to respond in incongruent
conditions (e.g., the word “square” combined with the shape of a circle) than in congru-
ent conditions. The authors found the strongest incongruency effects for the dominant
hemisphere—that is, the left hemisphere for responding to words and the right hemisphere
for responding to shapes. A Shape Interfering Properties hypothesis (SIP) is a possible
explanation for these results.
Keywords: hemispheric lateralization, incongruency effect, shape recognition, word recog-
nition

RESEARCH INVOLVING HEMISPHERIC INTERACTION is of interest in


many areas of science, from cognitive psychology to neurobiology (Banich &
Shenker, 1994). Discovering how the brain cognitively distributes and processes
information in the two hemispheres contributes to an understanding of patients

Address correspondence to Vicki S. Gier, Mississippi State University–Meridian Campus,


Department of Arts and Sciences, 1000 Highway 19 North, Meridian, MS 39307, USA;
vgier@meridian.msstate.edu (e-mail).

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who have brain damage caused by trauma, disease, or congenital brain disorders.
Hemispheric lateralization and interaction also contribute to the understanding of
how we process stimuli in our world, especially for cognitive processing (Mohr,
Endrass, Hauk, & Pulvermuller, 2007).
Hemispheric lateralization studies involving incongruent stimuli, such as in
Stroop (1935) and Stroop-like experiments, have facilitated an understanding of
how the brain processes words and other stimuli such as colors and shapes. The
classic Stroop effect is that it takes longer to name the color of ink for a color word
that conflicts with the ink color (e.g., the word green printed in red ink) than to
name the color of ink for a color word that is consistent (e.g., the word green printed
in green ink). These studies are important in understanding perceptual–cognitive
processes in everyday life. The perception of color, for instance, is a major part
of our daily lives. How our recognition of colors is processed in relation to words
helps us to understand the importance of natural and man-made stimuli (e.g.,
words) in our evolutionary history.
In addition, shapes play a significant role in our perception of the world.
Shapes have been part of our evolutionary past for much longer than printed words.
By presenting different conditions of geometric shapes and geometric words sep-
arately or concurrently to the two hemispheres, it is possible to investigate hemi-
spheric facility for these different types of stimuli. Such studies contribute to an
understanding of stimulus competition—for example, what causes some stimuli
to block other stimuli, and, when both hemispheres are simultaneously activated
when does one hemisphere override the other?
Language and speech abilities have been found to be most prominent in the
left hemisphere for right-handed persons (Korsnes & Magnussen, 2007). Even
when participants are asked to identify letters, responses are faster for stimuli
in the right visual field/left hemisphere (RVF/LH) than when the stimuli are
presented to the left visual field/right hemisphere (LVF/RH; Rizzolatti, Umilta,
& Berlucchi, 1971). The left hemisphere also displays more brain activity during
word recognition (Petersen, Fox, Posner, Minton, & Raichle, 1989). Gazzaniga,
Ivry, and Mangun (1998) reported that only a small percentage of split-brain
patients showed any language abilities in the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere has superior abilities in visual–spatial tasks and some
specific verbal tasks (Korsnes & Magnussen, 2007; Levy & Kueck, 1986). In
addition, Springer and Deutsch (1998) reported that the right hemisphere is supe-
rior to the left hemisphere in recognizing geometric shapes. In 1961, Sperry and
Gazzaniga presented the first split-brain patient, W. J., with the Wechsler block
design task and asked him to arrange white and red blocks to match a particular
pattern presented to him. W. J. did well when using his left hand but was unable
to perform the task when using his right hand (reported in Gazzaniga, Ivry, &
Mangun, 1998).
Researchers have investigated Stroop and Stroop-like effects in relation to
hemispheric lateralization for over three decades. For instance, Dyer (1973) and
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 3

Tsao, Feustel, and Soseos (1979) both found a greater Stroop effect for words
presented to the RVF/LH than for words presented to the LVF/RH, indicating
greater interference from the words when attempting to name the colors. The left
hemisphere appears to be more affected by interference than the right hemisphere
for naming the color of a word when it conflicts with the word itself (e.g, the word
green printed in red).
Research with split-brain patients has offered insight into why reaction time
(RT) is faster in the LVF/RH during Stroop-like tasks. Levy and Levy (1978)
found that the left hemisphere of split-brain patients is best characterized as
“analytic,” whereas the right hemisphere appears to process information in a
“holistic” manner. Given these results, perhaps the RTs are faster in the right
hemisphere because that hemisphere processes the whole stimulus instead of only
the word. Manelis and Grebennikova (1985) found slower RTs for the incongruent
condition in the RVF/LH than in the LVF/RH. The researchers suggested that the
results occurred because the processing of the color patch and color word was
simultaneous in the right hemisphere, whereas the processing of the color patch
and color word occurred successively in the left hemisphere.
In the present study, geometric shapes and geometric words were used to
determine whether differential hemispheric effects would occur when stimuli were
presented in the three visual fields (left, central, and right). The current studies
are the first to examine whether interfering properties of words and shapes differ
when presented to different visual fields.

Overview of the Current Study

Experiment 1 was based on Weekes and Zaidel’s (1996) Stroop-like task.


They presented a color patch and a color word either in the same visual field
or in separate visual fields. The results showed the strongest Stroop effect when
the word and patch were both in the RVF/LH, demonstrating interfering effects
of words with color. In our Experiment 1, we presented a geometric word and
a geometric shape, both in the same visual field. When participants respond to
the words, we expect faster RTs for the RVF/LH. We expected faster RTs for
the LVF/RH for participant responses to shapes. More important, we expected a
greater incongruency effect (i.e., longer RTs for incongruent stimuli relative to
congruent stimuli) for responses to words when the stimuli are presented to the
RVF/LH, as the LH is assumed to be dominant for responding to words. Similarly,
we expected a greater incongruency effect for responses to the shapes when stimuli
are presented to the LVF/RH.
In Experiment 2, we presented geometric shapes and geometric words in
different visual fields. Based on Weekes and Zaidel’s (1996) and David’s (1992)
studies, we hypothesized that there would again be Stroop-like incongruency
effects. Weekes and Zaidel (1996) found the strongest Stroop effect when the
color patch was in the LVF/RH and the color word was in the RVF/LH. In the
4 The Journal of General Psychology

present study, we hypothesized that the strongest incongruency effects would occur
when the shape was in the LVF/RH and the word was in the RVF/LH because of
hemispheric dominance for language in the left hemisphere and shape recognition
in the right hemisphere.
In Experiment 3, we presented geometric words (circle, square, triangle) in-
side geometric shapes (a circle, a square, or a triangle). We hypothesized that there
would again be Stroop-like incongruency effects. When participants responded to
words, we again expected a greater incongruency effect for stimuli presented to
the RVF/LH. When participants responded to shapes, we again expected a greater
incongruency effect for stimuli presented to the LVF/RH.
In Experiment 4, we presented nongeometric words inside the geometric
shapes and asked participants to respond to the shapes. We selected nongeometric
words that were matched in word frequency and word length with the shape
words used in the first three experiments. We hypothesized that Experiment 4
RTs would be faster than Experiment 3 RTs for responding to shapes in the
incongruent condition. Faster RTs in Experiment 4 would support the hypothesis
that the geometric words in Experiment 3 interfere with responding to the shapes.
Similarly, we expected faster RTs to shapes in Experiment 3’s congruent condition
than in Experiment 4 due to the benefit of responding to a geometric shape when
the consistent shape word was present.

EXPERIMENT 1

Experiment 1 tested for incongruency effects when geometric words and


shapes were presented in the same visual field. David (1992) tested whether
both hemispheres would demonstrate an incongruency effect if participants were
presented with a color word written above a color patch. David’s (1992) results
showed a Stroop effect in both hemispheres. Similarly, Weekes and Zaidel (1996)
presented color patches with color words above the patches and found a Stroop
effect in all three visual fields. Weekes and Zaidel found the largest Stroop effect
in the RVF/LH. In the present study, geometric words were presented above
geometric shapes in the three visual fields. Incongruency effects were predicted
for all three visual fields, with the greatest incongruency effect for responding
to shapes in the RVF/LH and the greatest incongruency effect for responding to
words in the LVF/RH.

Method

Participants
Sixty predominantly right-handed undergraduate students between the ages
of 18 and 40 volunteered to participate in the research study. Sixty-six participants
volunteered for the study; however, as a result of administering a handedness
questionnaire (Chapman & Chapman,1987), we excused two participants because
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 5

they did not meet the 85% criterion level for being predominantly right-handed.
In addition, one participant was excused because he was over the age of 40,
and three other participants were excused because they failed a vision exam. All
participants reported having English as their first language and had normal or
corrected-to-normal vision.

Materials
We presented stimuli and recorded responses on a Power Macintosh GE
computer with a 36 cm diagonal screen using Readtion Time 3.0 software. The
Chapman and Chapman (1987) Handedness Questionnaire was used to deter-
mine whether the participants were predominantly right-handed. A version of the
Snellen eye chart was used to assess vision, and a chin rest, centered and positioned
36 centimeters form the computer screen, was used to keep the participant’s head
in a stable position during testing.

Stimuli
Three geometric works were used: circle, square, and triangle. The words
were typed in lowercase 22-point Times New Roman font. Three geometric shapes
were used: a circle, a square, and a triangle. The circle was 4.15 cm in diameter,
the triangle was 4.34cm by 5.05cm, and the square was 4.15cm by 4.15cm. A
fixation point appeared in the center of the screen. Stimuli presented in the LVF
and RVF were 6◦ from the fixation point to the beginning of the stimuli.

Procedure
After reading and signing the consent form, each participant responded to the
Chapman and Chapman (1987) Handedness Questionnaire. We then tested vision
by placing a revised Snellen chart for near vision on the computer screen. We
asked participants to cover one eye and read the chart, then switch eyes and read
the chart backwards. The chart determined how well they could see at close range.
A 100% criterion level was set, or 20/20 vision. We allowed participants to wear
contacts or glasses if needed. The participants were seated 36 cm away from the
computer screen with their chin resting in the adjustable chin rest.
The experiments were administered in random order for each participant.
After the last experiment, we debriefed each participant.
In Experiment 1, the words appeared above the geometric shape randomly
in one of the three visual fields (See Figure 1). The shape and word stimuli were
counterbalanced to appear evenly across the three visual fields. Each participant
was asked to respond to words and to respond to shapes, with the order of these two
tasks counterbalanced across participants. Each task consisted of 108 trials, with
12 trials for each of the nine possible combinations of shape and word stimuli (three
congruent combinations and six incongruent combinations). For each combination
of stimuli, four trials were presented to each of the three visual fields (RVF, center
6 The Journal of General Psychology

FIGURE 1. Experimental paradigms for Experiments 1–4 presented in three


visual fields.

visual field [CVF], LVF). For the word task, we read the following instructions
to the participant: “Once the experiment begins you will first see a fixation point
followed by a geometric shape with a geometric word above the shape in one
of the three visual fields. Your task is to press the key that corresponds to the
word as quickly and accurately as possible, ignoring the shape.” We then asked
participants to restate the instructions. Participants then responded to 10 practice
trials before the experimental trials began. A fixation point appeared on the screen
for 2000 ms, followed by the stimuli for 100 ms. After the participant finished
the last trial, the message “End of Experiment” appeared on the computer screen.
The experimenter was seated behind the participant. The procedure was identical
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 7

for the shape task, except that participants were asked to respond to the shape,
ignoring the word.

Results

We analyzed responses to the words using a 3 × 2 repeated measures analysis


of variance (ANOVA). The independent variables were visual field (LVF, CVF,
RVF), and congruency (congruent and incongruent). The dependent variable was
RT. There was not a significant main effect of visual field, F (2, 118) = 2.386,
p < .0943, η2 = .03; however, there was a significant main effect of congruency
(congruent/incongruent), F (1, 59) = 15.626, p = .0002, η2 = .21. There was also
a significant interaction between congruency and visual field, F (2, 118) = 4.039,
p = .0201, η2 = .06, with the largest incongruency effect in the RVF/LH (see
Figure 2).
Results for responding to shapes did not show a significant main effect of
V visual field, F (2, 118) = 3.985, p < .1434, η2 = .01. However, there was a
significant main effect of congruency, F (1, 59) = 8.281, p = .0056, η2 = .12.
There was also a significant interaction between congruency and visual field, F
(2, 118) = 5.583, p = .0043, η2 = .07 with the largest incongruency effect in the
LVF/RH.

Discussion

The results of Experiment 1 provided support for the hypothesis of an in-


congruency effect when the geometric word and geometric shape were in the
same visual field. This effect occurred both for response to words and response to
shapes.
Past Stroop-like studies have shown less interference for naming words in
the RVF/LH (Weekes & Zaidel, 1996; David, 1992) than for naming colors.
However, the nature of the current study is different from other Stroop-like studies.
Most Stroop-like studies involve conditions of color naming and reading a color
word. During typical Stroop and Stroop-like experiments, the word significantly
interferes with color naming. In the current study, shape identification replaced
color naming; however, unlike color in Stroop studies, the shape interfered with
the response to the word. In addition, in the incongruent conditions, the slowest
RTs for word responses were seen in the RVF/LH, and the slowest RTs for shape
responses were seen in the LVF/RH. In the congruent conditions, faster RTs were
seen in the RVF/LH for words and in the LVF/RH for shapes. This pattern of
results is consistent with the idea that Stroop-like effects are specific to the two
hemispheres. In other words, incongruency affects shape responses more in the
RH than in the LH, and incongruency affects word responses more in the LH than
the RH.
8 The Journal of General Psychology

FIGURE 2. Mean reaction times for Experiments 1–4 comparing congruent


and incongruent word–shape conditions.

EXPERIMENT 2

In Experiment 2, the word and shape stimuli were presented in different visual
fields. Some researchers report that dividing processing between the hemispheres
may lead to enhanced performance (Banich & Belger, 1990; Davis & Schmit,
1971, 1973), while others report no enhanced performance (Bradshaw, Nettleton,
& Patterson, 1973; Liederman, Merola & Martinez, 1985). Liederman (1986)
found that the division of inputs between the hemispheres does not always im-
prove performance. When participants saw a word presented in one visual field
and a nonword in the opposite visual field, more interference than facilitation
was reported. Belger and Banich (1998) found that if the task was complex (as
when incongruent stimuli are presented), simultaneous bilateral presentation was
advantageous; however, if the task was simple, processing was hindered. For the
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 9

present experiment, we predicted the greatest incongruency effect would be when


the word appeared in the RVF/LH and the shape in the LVF/RH.

Method

The method was identical to that of Experiment 1 with the following excep-
tions. One of the three geometric words (circle, square, triangle) appeared in the
RVF, CVF, or LVF. At the same time, one of three geometric shapes (a circle,
a square, or triangle) appeared in one of the remaining visual fields. Shape and
word were counterbalanced to appear evenly across the three visual fields but were
never presented in the same visual field (see Figure 1).
For the word task, the experimenter read aloud the following instructions:
“During Experiment 2 you will be asked to first focus your attention on the fixation
point. Once the experiment begins, you will see a geometric word and a geometric
shape presented in different visual fields. In the first part of Experiment 2 your
task is to press the key that corresponds to the word as quickly and accurately as
possible, ignoring the shape.” For the shape task, the instructions were the same
except that the participants were told: “Your job is to respond to the shape that
you see as quickly and accurately as possible.”

Results

A 3 × 2 × 2 repeated measures ANOVA was used to analyze the RTs to


the words. The independent variables were congruency (congruent/incongruent),
word visual field (LVF, CVF, RVF), and shape visual field. There was no main
effect of congruency, F (1, 59) = 2.313, p = .1337, η2 = .02. There was a main
effect of word visual field, F (2, 118) = 10.121, p < .0001, η2 = .15, a main effect
for shape visual field, F (1, 59) = 9.642, p = .0029, η2 = .14, and an interaction
between congruency and shape visual field, F (1, 59) = 4.512, p = .0379, η2 =
.07. This interaction showed the largest incongruency effect for shapes presented
in the LVF/RH (See Figure 2). There was also an interaction between word visual
field and shape visual field, F (2, 118) = 6.952, p = .0014; η2 = .11, with the
slowest RTs when the word was in the CVF and the shape was in the RVF/LH.
Reaction times for responding to shapes were analyzed in the same manner.
There was not a significant main effect of congruency, F (1, 59) = 3.194, p =
.0791, η2 = = .05. However, there was a main effect of word visual field, F (2,
118) = 4.852, p = .0094, η2 = .08, with the slowest RT when the word was in
the RVF/LH. There was also a shape visual field main effect, F (1, 59) = 6.403,
p = .0141, η2 = .10, with the slowest RT when the shape was in the RVF/LH.
There was not a significant interaction between congruency and word visual field,
F (2, 118) = 2.370, p = .0979, η2 = .04. In addition, there was not a significant
interaction between congruency and shape visual field, F (1,59) = .510, p = .4779,
η2 = .01. There was an interaction between word visual field and shape visual
10 The Journal of General Psychology

field, F (2, 59) = 8.279, p = .0004, η2 = .22, with the fastest RT being when the
word was in the LVF/RH and the shape was in the CVF, and the slowest RT being
when the word in the CVF and the shape was in the RVF/LH.

Discussion

For responding to words, the largest incongruency effect was found when
the shape was in the LVF/RH. These results were predicted because of the left
hemisphere’s dominance for language and the right hemisphere’s dominance for
shape recognition.
Contrary to the hypothesis for responding to shapes, there was no interaction
between congruency and visual field for the word. The fastest RT for responding to
shapes occurred when the shape was in the LVF/RH. This result provides support
for a RH advantage for processing shape stimuli. The right hemisphere, which
is dominant for geometric shape recognition (Franco & Sperry, 1977), seems
to facilitate response to the shapes. When the shape was incongruent with the
word, RTs were slower when the shape (target) appeared in the LVF/RH than the
RVF/LH. (The CVF had the slowest RT for the incongruent condition; however,
the CVF involves both hemispheres).
In Experiments 1 and 2, geometric words and shapes were presented sepa-
rately with the word either above the shape, or with the word and the shape in
different visual fields. Experiment 3 tested whether a Stroop-like effect would
occur if the word was written inside the shape.

EXPERIMENT 3

The purpose of Experiment 3 was to test the hypothesis that an incongruency


effect would occur when a geometric word was presented inside a shape. Exper-
iment 3 replicates a study conducted by Silvers, Duhamel, and Solso (2000), in
which participants were presented with one of three geometric shapes (a square,
a circle, or a triangle) with a geometric word (square, circle, or triangle) inside
the shape. There was an incongruency effect in all three visual fields. In addition,
Silvers, Duhamel, and Solso found a strong incongruency effect for responding to
shapes in the LVF/RH and a strong incongruency effect for responding to words
in the RVF/LH. In the present study, we predicted an incongruency effect in all
visual fields for responses to words and to shapes. The strongest incongruency
effect was predicted in the RVF/LH for word responses, and in the LVF/RH for
the shape responses.

Method

The method was identical to that of Experiments 1 and 2 with the following
exceptions. The geometric word stimuli were presented inside the geometric shape
(See Figure 1). For the word task, the experimenter read aloud the following
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 11

instructions: “During Experiment 3 you will be asked to focus on a fixation point.


Once the experiment begins, you will see a geometric word inside a geometric
shape. In the first part of Experiment 3 your task is to press the key that corresponds
to the word as quickly and accurately as possible, ignoring the shape.” For the
shape task, the instructions were the same except that the participants were told to
respond to the shape and to ignore the word.

Results

We used a 3 × 2 repeated measures ANOVA to analyze responses to words.


The independent variables were visual field (LVF, CVF, RVF) and congruency
(congruent/incongruent). There was a significant main effect of congruency, F
(1, 59) = 63.583, p < .0001, η2 = .52. There was also a significant interaction
between congruency and visual field (See Figure 2), F (2, 118) = 7.486, p <
.0009, η2 = .11, with the largest incongruency effect in the RVF/LH.
Results for responding to the shapes showed a significant main effect of
congruency, F (1, 59) = 27.119, p < .0001, η2 = .31. There was a significant
interaction between congruency and visual field, F (2, 118) = 25.783 p < .0001,
η2 = .30.

Discussion

Placing the word within the shape did not eliminate the incongruency effect,
which was again found both for responding to words and for responding to shapes.
The larger incongruency effect in the RVF/LH for responding to words was con-
sistent with the left hemisphere advantage for recognizing words (Shevtsova &
Reggia, 1999; Wise et al., 1991).
Results for responses to shapes were similar to those of Silvers Silvers,
Duhamel, and Solso (2000). Both the Silvers, Duhamel, and Solso study and the
present study showed significant incongruency effects. In the present experiment,
RTs in the incongruent condition were 45 ms slower than the congruent RTs. In
addition, an incongruency effect occurred in all three visual fields. The strongest
incongruency effect for shapes was in the LVF/RH, with a difference of 118
ms between congruent and incongruent conditions. Past research has shown a RH
advantage for shape recognition (Sousa, 1995; Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun, 1998).
Thus, the large incongruency effect in the LVF/RH suggests that shapes may also
be processed automatically.

EXPERIMENT 4

In Experiment 4, nongeometric words of the same word frequency and word


length were used instead of the three geometric words used in the other experi-
ments. The purpose was to compare RTs to shapes in Experiment 4 with RTs to
12 The Journal of General Psychology

congruent and incongruent shapes in Experiment 3. The purpose of Experiment 4


was to determine whether the incongruency effects found in the previous exper-
iments are due to the mere presence of any word and shape stimuli, or whether
the incongruency effects are specifically a result of interference between shape
words and shapes. We hypothesized that Experiment 4 RTs would be faster than
Experiment 3 RTs for responding to shapes when incongruent words were present.
Faster RTs in Experiment 4 would support the hypothesis that the geometric words
in Experiment 3 interfere with responding to the shapes. Similarly, we expected
faster RTs to shapes in the Experiment 3 congruent condition than in Experiment
4, because of the benefit of responding to a geometric shape when the consistent
shape word was present.

Method

The method was identical to the previous experiments with a few exceptions.
A nongeometric word replaced the geometric words used in the previous exper-
iments. The nongeometric words were selected from the MRC Psycholinguistic
Database (Coltheart, 1981). Nongeometric words were selected to be of the same
word frequency (Kucera & Francis, 1967), length, and number of syllables as the
words circle, square, and triangle. The word garden (word frequency of 60) re-
placed the word circle; friend (word frequency 133) replaced square; and magician
(word frequency of 4) replaced triangle.
Directions for Experiment 4 were as follows: “During the fourth experiment
you will press a key that corresponds to the shape on the computer screen as fast
and as accurately as possible. When you are ready to begin, please press the start
button.”

Results

A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was used to analyze the responses. The
independent variable was visual field (LVF, CVF, RVF). The dependent variable
was RT for responding to the shape. There was no significant effect of visual field,
F (2, 118) = 1.603, p = .2056, η2 = .03.
Experiment 3 RTs to congruent shapes were compared to Experiment 4 RTs
to shapes using a 3 × 2 repeated measures ANOVA. The independent variables
were visual field (LVF, CVF, RVF) and experiment. There was a significant main
effect of experiment, F (1, 59) = 4.898, p = .0308, η2 = .08, and a significant
main effect of visual field, F (2, 118) = 5.264, p = .0065, η2 = .08. There was
also a significant interaction between experiment and visual field, F (2, 118) =
6.169, p = .0028, η2 = .09 (See Figure 3). Experiment 4 RTs were faster than
Experiment 3 RTs in the RVF/LH and CVF, but there was no difference in the
LVF/RH.
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 13

FIGURE 3. Mean reaction times comparing Experiment 3 shape condition and


Experiment 4 shape condition.

The comparison of Experiment 4 RTs with Experiment 3 RTs to incongru-


ent shapes showed a significant main effect of experiment, F (1, 59) = 32.704,
p < .0001, η2 = .36, and a main effect of visual field, F (2, 118) = 15.011,
p < .0001, η2 = .20. There was also a significant interaction between experiment
and visual field, F (2, 118) = 8.120, p = .0005, η2 = .12. Experiment 4 RTs
were significantly faster in all three visual fields, with the largest difference in the
LVF/RH, a difference of 112 ms.

Discussion

Experiment 4 RTs were faster than Experiment 3 incongruent RTs in the


three visual fields. This suggests that there is a specific interference that results
from an incongruent shape word being presented as the participant responds to
the shape. Thus, the Stroop-like effect reported in the previous experiments may
be due to specific interference between shape words and shapes. Reaction times
were possibly faster in Experiment 4 compared to Experiment 3 because the words
in Experiment 4 were nongeometric, thereby eliminating the interference of the
geometric shape.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

The original Stroop (1935) study demonstrated inhibition for color naming
when a color word was written in an incongruent color. The Stroop effect has
proven to be robust and has been demonstrated in over 700 studies (MacLeod,
1991). For Stroop studies involving color, there is a consensus that the left
14 The Journal of General Psychology

hemisphere shows a stronger Stroop effect (slower RT in naming the color) than
the right hemisphere (Coney & Collins-Abernethy, 1994; MacLeod, 1991). The
premise of this pattern is the left hemisphere’s dominance for language. Because
the left hemisphere is assumed to be the dominant hemisphere for word recogni-
tion, there would be interference when the participant is asked to ignore the word
and to respond to the color.
In a typical Stroop experiment there is one stimulus—the word—but it has
the additional dimension of color. The interpretation is that RTs are slower for
color naming because of the LH’s advantage for word recognition. Reading is so
automatic that it is difficult to ignore the word when asked to name the color.
The present studies consisted of congruent and incongruent words and shapes,
presented in three visual fields. An incongruency effect refers to a slower RT during
the incongruent condition compared to the congruent condition. Experiments 1
and 3 showed incongruency effects for responding to words and for responding to
shapes that varied depending on the visual field, whereas Experiment 2 provided
mixed results on this question.
It is necessary to examine the difference between the stimuli in this study
compared with other Stroop-like tasks involving color. During the present ex-
periments, geometric words and shapes were two separate stimuli. Each type of
stimulus has a dominant hemisphere: left hemisphere for words (Shevtsova &
Reggia, 1999) and right hemisphere for shapes (Gazzaniga, 1992). The pattern of
results indicated congruency effects in the dominant hemisphere for both words
and shapes. The incongruent RTs tended to be slower for the RH when responding
to shapes, and the incongruent RTs tended to be slower in the LH when responding
to words.
Experiment 4 presented participants with nongeometric words inside geomet-
ric shapes in order to compare RTs when the word was not related to geometric
shapes. Experiment 4 RTs were faster than the Experiment 3 congruent shape con-
dition in the RVF/LH and CVF, but not in the LVF/RH. The hemisphere dominant
for shape recognition appeared to benefit from the presence of the congruent word
in Experiment 3. The results suggest that there is a specific interference effect that
results from the incongruent shape when a geometric word is used.
The results of the present experiments lead to the question of whether simulta-
neous cognitive processing of geometric shapes and geometric words is different
than in typical Stroop tasks or even in picture–word experiments. Incongruent
picture–word experiments (responding to the picture and ignoring the word) have
consistently shown a Stroop effect in the RVF/LH (Coney & Collins-Abernethy,
1996; Kingma, La Heij, Fasotti, & Eling, 1996). Although a Stroop-like effect
was found in all of the visual fields, the dominant hemisphere showed the largest
Stroop-like effect. We propose an explanation of why the shapes have interfering
qualities in our study as Stroop and Stroop-like studies have demonstrated how
words interfere with naming the word color but proposing a Shape Interfering
Properties (SIP) hypothesis.
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 15

The Shape Interfering Properties (SIP) hypothesis is based on the fact that
geometric shapes interfered with the responses to the geometric words. Why
might this happen? Although it is well-documented that reading has become an
automatic process, one which we cannot ignore (Stroop, 1935), it appears that
shapes may have a similar effect as color did in the original Stroop study. We
propose that shapes have the potential to interfere with the processing of shape
words more than pictures interfere with words in picture–word experiments. Our
reasoning is that reading is relatively recent in our evolutionary history. Gazzaniga
(1992) states that our left hemisphere was not designed for language but rather
adapted for the new skill that humans developed. The Stroop effect is not seen in
children until they become literate (Comalli, Wapner, & Werner, 1962). Much like
the studies of preschool children naming the colors on a Stroop task, preschool
children learn their shapes before they learn the words for the shapes; however,
there remains one important difference between shapes and words. It is reasonable
to assume that, throughout our evolutionary history, our ancestors used shapes to
recognize many objects in their environment (Kimura, 2000). Everything in the
environment is made up of shapes of some kind. Automatic processing for shapes
could help explain a right hemisphere advantage for face recognition (Sergent,
Ohta, & MacDonald, 1992), as faces are comprised of shapes. Eyes may be round
or oval; chins are sometimes squared or pointed. The sun, the moon, houses (or
caves), trees, animals, and fruits are all composed of basic recognizable shapes.
There are several supporting arguments for the SIP hypothesis. If there are
specific cells in the brain that react to shapes, one could assume that the cells
exist because of an evolutionary benefit of recognizing shapes. Goldstein (1999)
indicates that such cells do exist and are referred to as primary cells (cells respond-
ing to shapes such as spots, ellipses, and squares) and elaborate cells (cells that
respond to specific shapes). In Biederman’s recognition-by-components theory, an
object or scene is analyzed into volumetric primitives called geons (Biederman,
Cooper, Hummel, & Fiser, 1993). According to this theory, we can recognize a
shape or object even when it is partially covered. Perhaps our evolutionary history
has resulted in a brain that cannot ignore shapes.
Future research involving hemispheric lateralization using the word–shape
paradigm should consider using neuroimaging techniques to support the inferred
activity in the different hemispheres. An EEG study would show alpha-level
brainwave activity while the participants are confronted with congruent and
incongruent conditions with geometric shapes and words. Being able to map
the automatic cognitive processing of two separate stimuli would be helpful in
understanding the results obtained from this study.
Future studies involving the word–shape paradigm would benefit from testing
other populations than college students. Perhaps college students are more prac-
ticed readers than the general population. Older adults, for example, exhibit greater
interference in the traditional Stroop task. West and Baylis (1998, 206) found
that “older adults had difficulty maintaining a color-naming strategy to guide task
16 The Journal of General Psychology

performance.” Another suggestion would be to investigate gender differences, as


male brains tend to be more lateralized than female brains (Gazzaniga, 1987).
There are several important implications of the present results. First, and
most important to this study, an incongruency effect was found in all three visual
fields. The fact that interference occurred in all three visual fields should be
helpful for those working with brain-damaged patients by understanding that
shapes and words are automatically processed in both hemispheres. Perhaps
considering the proposed SIP hypothesis will help researchers and scientists
better understand our evolutionary history as it relates to shapes and why they
are processed automatically. In addition, the word–shape paradigm may be
used in place of Stroop and Stroop-like tests for psychological evaluations.
Currently, the Stroop task and Stroop-like tests are used in evaluating working
memory (VanderLinden, Collette, Salmon, Delfiore, Degueldre, & Luxen, 1999),
posttraumatic stress disorder (McNally, 2006) Alzheimer’s (Amieva, Phillips,
Sala, & Henry, 2004), attention deficit hyperactive disorder and attention, (Bush
et al., 1999), mental speed and mental control (Ward, Roberts, & Phillips, 2001).
Those patients who are color blind could perhaps benefit from the stimuli used in
the current studies to determine hemispheric functioning. Lastly, to account for
the hemispheric asymmetry of the Stroop-like effect during both the word and
shape tasks, it appears necessary to assume that there is some preferential access
to word codes in the left hemisphere and some preferential access to shapes in
the right hemisphere. When attention was directed toward a particular target
(either shape or word), the participant was unable to ignore the incongruent word
or shape, causing a slower RT to the target in the dominant hemisphere. The
interference from the automatic processing of the irrelevant stimulus feature was
evident during both word and shape conditions. Differential hemispheric effects
in word/shape Stroop-like tasks present a new twist to the typical Stroop effect.

AUTHOR NOTES

Vicki S. Gier is an assistant professor of psychology at Mississippi State


University–Meridian. She earned a PhD in experimental psychology from the University
of Nevada, Reno. Her research interests include cognitive psychology, face recognition,
metacognition, and hemispheric laterality. She is a member of the Association for Psycho-
logical Science and the International Association for Metacogntion. David S. Kreiner is a
professor of psychology at the University of Central Missouri. He earned a PhD in human
experimental psychology from the University of Texas Austin. His research interests include
areas in cognitive psychology, particularly in language processing and memory, as well as
research on the teaching of psychology. He is a member of the American Psychological
Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Psychonomic Society, and the
Midwestern Psychological Association. Robert L. Solso was a professor of psychology at
the University of Nevada, Reno. His research interests included cognitive psychology, visual
memory, abstract representations, and Russian Psychology. Sheryl L. Cox is earning her
masters in psychology at the University of Central Missouri. Her research interests include
hemispheric laterality, dermal ridge and sociopathology, and cognitive neuroscience.
Gier, Kreiner, Solso, & Cox 17

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Original manuscript submitted June 26, 2008
Final version accepted February 22, 2009
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