One night of sleep deprivation affects reaction time, but not interference or facilitation in a Stroop task

Sean W. Cain, Edward J. Silva, Anne Marie Chang, Joseph M. Ronda, Jeanne F. Duffy

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68 Scopus citations


The Stroop color-naming task is one of the most widely studied tasks involving the inhibition of a prepotent response, regarded as an executive function. Several studies have examined performance on versions of the Stroop task under conditions of acute sleep deprivation. Though these studies revealed effects on Stroop performance, the results often do not differentiate between general effects of sleep deprivation on performance and effects specifically on interference in the Stroop task. To examine the effect of prolonged wakefulness on performance on the Stroop task, we studied participants in a 40-h " constant routine" protocol during which they remained awake in constant conditions and performed a Stroop color-naming task every two hours. We found that reaction time was slowest when the color and word did not match (incongruent), fastest when the color and word did match (congruent), and intermediate when participants named the color of the non-word stimulus (neutral). Performance on all three trial types degraded significantly as a function of time awake. Extended wakefulness did not significantly change the additional time needed to respond when the color and word did not match (Stroop interference), nor did it change the amount of facilitation when color and word matched. These results indicate that one night of sleep deprivation influences performance on the Stroop task by an overall increase in response time, but does not appear to impact the underlying processes of interference or facilitation. The results suggest that the degree to which an " executive function" is affected by sleep deprivation may depend on the particular executive function studied and the degree to which it is subserved by the prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-42
Number of pages6
JournalBrain and cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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