Catching Russian Spies With Science

By Anupum Pant

Consider this. You have the following line and you are asked to read out loud the colour of the word. It’s a rather easy exercise.


However, if the letters read of one colour and appear in some other colour, like the word “blue” appears in red colour, as shown below, it takes a slightly greater amount of time to process it inside and churn our the colour.


It can also be said with firm belief that you’ll take that extra time in the second exercise as compared to the first one only if you speak English. If you are a Russian, for instance, your brain would just skip the English letters and focus on the colour of the words. So, Russians would complete the second exercise in more or less the same time as the first one. This is the Stroop effect.

Thanks to the Stroop effect, it was literally a words play to catch a Russian spy.

Also, depressed people can be spotted using a similar exercise (again stroop effect).

Depressed participants will be slower to say the color of depressing words rather than non-depressing words. Non-clinical subjects have also been shown to name the color of an emotional word (e.g., ‘war’, ‘cancer’, ‘kill’) slower than naming the color of a neutral word (e.g., ‘clock’, ‘lift’, ‘windy’).

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