Stroop Effect and Impact in Wilderness Survival (Overview)

Say the colors you see as quickly as you can.

Say the colors you see as quickly as you can.

The Stroop effect is a great tool for understanding how the brain tries to process complex information in stress or when the brain is distracted in stressful situations, such as in a survival situation. It mimics the processing the brain must do when your car goes off the road and you wind up in a creek, a friend comes back into camp with a cold-weather injury and you have to quickly react, or you find yourself lost in the woods and have to make a decision to find your way out or set up a comfort zone as rains pelt you and the cold has numbed both your fingers and your mind.

I often use this to help demonstrate the reaction time that is lost and the frustration one can go through in a survival situation. It shows how both relevant and irrelevant information are often processed at the same time. It can also demonstrate how we have selective attention in a survival situation- which leads to fixation. Sky divers and new pilots can become fixated on a single task and ignore everything else going on around them, just like what can happen in a wilderness survival situation.

To see the effect- look at the list above and say the color of the word as fast as you can. You should see (and feel) the impact immediately as you struggle through the list, keeping in mind you are most likely in a safe area, away from harm, and relatively comfortable.

Placed in a wilderness survival situation where you are exposed to the elements, have increased stress because of the event that most likely placed you in a survival situation, and may be attending to physical limitations that brought on the situation, it is important to recognize that the brain is trying to process information that for a moment may not make any sense. This is one of the reasons we teach immediate action drills in survival, which we will discuss in a later posting.

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