The Effect of the Target’s Subjective Complexity on the Picture-Word Interference



Picture-word interference (PWI) paradigm is widely used in cognitive science for studying selective attention and speech production. This experimental paradigm is a modification of the classical Stroop task. In PWI task participants perform speeded naming of pictures (targets) while ignoring superimposed word distractors. Pictures are usually named more quickly when the distractor is a word than a control stimulus — the interference effect is observed. The effect size depends on many factors including the target’s subjective complexity. Leading theories of Stroop interference give mutually exclusive predictions concerning the influence of this factor on the magnitude of interference. According to the theories of competition, which consider the interference effect as a consequence of automatic processes, the complication of target images should lead to an increase in interference. The opposite prediction follows from the framework of control theories, which consider Stroop interference as a consequence of voluntary attention processes. The aim of this study is to identify the orientation of the target’s subjective complexity effect on picture-word interference. The subjective complexity of the target images was varied in two ways: (1) by using unfamiliar targets and (2) by targets fragmentation. In both experiments, the identical results were obtained. Increase in the target’s subjective complexity, no matter how it was varied, led to the decrease of picture-word interference. The obtained results provide evidence for the control theories, which include the conceptions of D. Kahneman and V. M. Allakhverdov

General Information

Keywords: Stroop interference, Stroop task, picture-word interference task, target’s subjective complexity, target familiarity, target fragmentation

Journal rubric: Empirical and Experimental Research

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The study was supported by Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project N 18-013-01212.

For citation: Sopov M.S., Starodubcev A.S., Miroshnik K.G. The Effect of the Target’s Subjective Complexity on the Picture-Word Interference. Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University. Psychology, 2019. Vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 92–106. DOI: 10.21638/spbu16.2019.107. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


MacLeod C. M. Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: An integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 1991, vol. 109, no. 2, pp. 163–203.

Information About the Authors

Mikhail S. Sopov, postgraduate student, Saint Petersburg State University, St.Petersburg, Russia, e-mail:

Aleksey S. Starodubcev, Researcher, Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Education “Saint Petersburg State University”, St.Petersburg, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Kirill G. Miroshnik, Student, Saint Petersburg State University, St.Petersburg, Russia, e-mail:



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