PSYA01 STUDY NOTES
5.1 – Consciousness and Unconscious: The Mind’s Eye, Open and Closed
Consciousness is a mystery of psychology because other people’s minds cannot be perceived directly
and because the relationship between mind and body is perplexing.
Phenomenology: how things seem to the conscious person, in their understanding of mind and
Consciousness can refer to:
The state of being awake and alert. Patients in a coma are not conscious.
Being “aware” of something like conscious of food in front of you.
The state of being aware of oneself; or at least one’s own thoughts. To be self-aware.
When used as an adjective “conscious” thoughts or processes are typical linked to goals and the notion
of behavioral control.
Consciousness has four basic properties: intentionality, unity selectivity, and transience. It can also be
understood in terms of levels: minimal consciousness, full consciousness, and self-consciousness.
Intentionality: the quality of being directed towards an object.
Conscious attention is limited. Consciousness will flow to things that sometimes we don’t want to think
Unity: resistance to division.
When you try to attend to more than one thing at a time. Why is talking on a cell phone while driving
difficult? Why is it different then having a friend in the car? Because the friend can also see the
surroundings. When in a complex situation everyone usually shut ups to allow the driver to concentrate.
On the cell phone they don’t know what is happening on the road, the driver is trying to divide to listen
to the cell phone and drive at the same time.
Selectivity: the capacity to include some objects but not others. If you have to divide your consciousness
you must choose what stimuli to attain to.
Dichotic listening: in which people wearing headphones are presented with different messages in
each ear. 2
Consciousness filters out some information; suggesting that the selectivity of consciousness can also
work to tune in other information. The conscious system is most inclined to select information of special
interest to the person.
Cocktail party phenomenon: people tune in one message even while they filter out others nearby.
Transience: tendency to change. It’s hard to fix consciousness on to one thing for a long period of time.
The stream of consciousness may flow in this way partly because of the limited capacity of the conscious
mind. We humans can hold only so much information in mind, after all, so when more information is
selected, some of what is currently there must disappear. As a result, our focus of attention keeps
Minimal consciousness: a low-level kind of sensory awareness and responsiveness that occurs when
the mind inputs sensations and may output behavior. In its minimal form, consciousness is just a
connection between the person and the world.
Full consciousness: consciousness in which you know and are able to report your mental state. It’s not
just that you are having this experience; being fully conscious means that you are also aware that you
are having this experience.
Self-consciousness: a distinct level of consciousness in which the person’s attention is drawn to the
self as an object. They are embarrassed; when they find themselves the focus of attention in a group;
when someone focuses a camera on them; or when they are deeply introspective about their thoughts,
feelings, or personal qualities. Self-consciousness brings with it a tendency to evaluate yourself and
notice your shortcomings; chronically self-conscious is associated with depression.
Most animals can’t follow this path to civilization. The typical dog, cat, or bird seems mystified by a
mirror, ignoring it or acting as though there is some other critter back there. However, chimpanzees that
have spent time with mirrors sometimes behave in ways that suggest they recognize themselves in a
mirror. (Red dye experiment, chimp reached toward its own eye as it looked into the mirror. Infants
don’t recognize themselves in the mirrors until they’ve reached about 18 months of age.)
The problem of other minds: the fundamental difficulty we have in perceiving the consciousness of
others. There is no clear way to distinguish a conscious person from someone who might do and say all
the same things as a conscious person but who is not conscious.
Mind/Body problem: the issue of how the mind is related to the brain and the body.
René Descartes is famous for proposing, among other things, that the human body is a machine made of
physical matter but that the human mind or soul is a separate entity made of a “thinking substance.” He
suggested that the mind has its effects on the brain and body through the pineal gland, a small structure
located near the center of the brain. In fact, the pineal gland is not even a nerve structure but rather is
an endocrine gland quite poorly equipped to serve as a center of human consciousness. 3
The brain begins to show electrical activity around half a second before a voluntary action. The brain
also started to show electrical activity before the person’s conscious decision to move. The brain
becomes active more than 300 milliseconds before participants report that they are consciously trying
Stress when the sympathetic nervous system keeps acting over a long period of time.
The notion of theory of mind: we assume each other has a conscious. We have to have a model of our
friend to be able to surprise them.
Conscious contents can include current concerns, daydreams, and unwanted thoughts.
Experience sampling technique: in which people are asked to report their conscious experiences at
particular times. Participants are asked to record their current thoughts when asked at random times
throughout the day.
Experience sampling studies show that consciousness is dominated by the immediate environment,
what is seen, felt, heard, tasted, and smelled—all are at the forefront of the mind. Much of
consciousness beyond this orientation to the environment turns to the person’s current concerns, or
what the person is thinking about repeatedly.
SCL (Skin Conductance Level) sensors attached to their fingers indicated when their skin became moist—
a good indication that they were thinking about something distressing. Once in a while, SCL would rise
spontaneously, and at these times the researchers quizzed the participants about their conscious
thoughts. These emotional moments, compared to those when SCL was normal, often corresponded
with a current concern popping into mind. Thoughts that are not emotional all by themselves can still
come to mind with an emotional bang when they are topics of our current concern.
During daydreaming, a state of consciousness in which a seemingly purposeless flow of thoughts comes
to mind. When thoughts drift along this way, it may seem as if you are just wasting time. The brain,
however, is active even when there is no specific task at hand. This mental work done in daydreaming
was examined in an fMRI study of people resting in the scanner.
Mental control: the attempt to change conscious sates of mind.
Thought suppression: the conscious avoidance of a thought.
This rebound effect of thought suppression: the tendency of a thought to return to consciousness with
greater frequency following suppression.
Ironic processes of mental control: mental processes that can produce ironic errors because
monitoring for errors can itself produce them. 4
Unconscious processes are sometimes understood as expressions of the Freudian dynamic unconscious,
but they are more commonly viewed as processes of the cognitive unconscious that create our
conscious thought and behavior.
Dynamic unconscious: an active system encompassing a lifetime of hidden memories, the person’s
deepest instincts and desires, and the person’s inner struggle to control these forces.
Repression: a mental process that removes unacceptable thoughts and memories from consciousness.
Without repression, a person might think, do, or say every unconscious impulse or animal urge, no
matter how selfish or immoral. With repression, these desires are held in the recesses of the dynamic
Freudian slips: Freud looked for evidence of the unconscious mind in speech errors and lapses of
consciousness. Freud believed that errors are not random and instead have surplus meaning that may
appear to have been created by an intelligent unconscious mind, even though the person consciously
disavows them. Our drive and desires leak out through unconscious.
Cognitive unconscious: the mental processes that give rise to a person’s thoughts, choices, emotions,
and behavior even though they are not experienced by the person.
One indication of the cognitive unconscious at work is when the person’s thought or behavior is
changed by exposure to information outside the consciousness. When we talk about unconscious it is
usually about habits, overly learned behavior. Through repetition and practice we can go all by our self,
the consciousness is not needed. When talking about habits we are talking about memory. The
unconscious mind can be a kind of “mental but
The cognitive unconscious is at work when subliminal perception and unconscious decision processes
influence thought or behavior without the person’s awareness.
Subliminal perception: a thought or behavior that is influenced by stimuli that a person cannot
consciously report perceiving. Subliminal perception does occur, but the degree of influence it has on
behavior is not very large.
Subliminal influences might be worrisome because they can change behavior without our conscious
awareness but not because they are more powerful in comparison to conscious influences.
Unconscious minds seemed better able than conscious minds to sort out the complex information and
arrive at the best choice. You sometimes can end up more satisfied with decision you make after just
“going with your gut” than with the decisions you consciously agonize over. 5
Sometimes habits come from rational (conscious) thoughts. Often habits are the result from
indoctrination: watching other people, peer pressure, influence from others.
Everybody you go to the machine and get a Pepsi, eventually this action becomes habit. One day you see
Michael Jackson promoting Pepsi, you hate Michael Jackson, and you decide that you are now going to
start drinking coke. The next day as you go for your Pepsi, habitually, you realize that you don’t want
that. Habit is pushing you one way while goal is pushing you the other way. Habits capture your
behavior. May be able to overcome your habit.
5.2 – Sleep and Dreaming: Good Night, Mind
Sleep can produce a state of unconsciousness in which the mind and brain apparently turn off the
functions that create experience.
Sleep and dreaming present a view of the mind with an altered state of consciousness.
Altered state of consciousness: a form of experience that departs significantly from the normal
subjective experience of the world and the mind. Accompanied by changes in thinking, disturbances in
the sense of time, feelings of the loss of control, changes in emotional expression, alterations in body
image and sense of self, perceptual distortions, and changes in meaning or significance.
During a night’s sleep, the brain passes in and out of five stages of sleep; most dreaming occurs in the
REM sleep stage.
Presleep consciousness – hypnagogic state – the busy, task-orientated thoughts of the waking mind are
replaced by wandering thoughts and images, odd juxtapositions, some of them almost dreamlike.
Hypnic jerk: a sudden quiver or sensation of dropping.
The glimmerings of waking consciousness return again in a foggy and imprecise form as you enter
postsleep consciousness – the hypnopompic state.
Circadian rhythm: a naturally occurring 24-hour cycle.
In 1929 researchers made EEG (electroencephalograph) recordings of the human brain for the first time.
The EEG recordings revealed a regular pattern of changes in electrical activity in the brain accompanying 6
the circadian cycle. During waking, these changes involve alternation between high-frequency activity
(called beta waves) during alertness and lower-frequency activity (alpha waves) during relaxation.
The largest changes in EEG occur during sleep. These changes show a regular pattern over the course of
the night that allowed sleep researchers to identify five sleep stages. In the first stage of sleep, the EEG
moves to frequency patterns even lower than alpha waves (theta waves). In the second stage of sleep,
these patterns are interrupted by short bursts of activity called sleep spindles and K complexes, and the
sleeper becomes somewhat more difficult to awaken. The deepest stages of sleep are 3 and 4, known as
slow-wave sleep, in which the EEG patterns show activity called delta waves.
REM sleep: a stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements and a high level of brain activity.
Electroculograph (EOG): an instrument that measures eye movement.
During the fifth sleep stage, REM sleep, EEG patterns become high-frequency sawtooth waves, similar to
beta waves, suggesting that the mind at this time is as active as it is during waking. Using
an electrooculograph (EOG), during sleep, researchers found that sleepers wakened during REM periods
reported having dreams much more often than those wakened during non-REM periods. During REM
sleep, the pulse quickens, blood pressure rises, and there are telltale signs of sexual arousal. At the same
time, measurements of muscle movements indicate that the sleeper is very still, except for a rapid side-
to-side movement of the eyes.
Not all dreams occur in REM periods. Some dreams are also reported in other sleep stages (non REM
sleep, also called NREM sleep) but not as many – and the dreams that occur at these times are described
as less wild than REM dreams and more like normal thinking.
Putting EEG and REM data together produces a picture of how a typical night’s sleep progresses through
cycles of sleep stages. In the first hour of the night, you fall all the way from waking to the fourth and
deepest stage of sleep, the stage marked by delta waves. These slow waves indicate a general
synchronization of neural firing, as though the brain is doing one thing at this time rather than many—
the neuronal equivalent of “the wave” moving through the crowd at a stadium, as lots of individuals
move together in synchrony. You then return to lighter sleep stages, eventually reaching REM and
dreamland. Note that although REM sleep is lighter than that of lower stages, it is deep enough that you
may be difficult to awaken. You then continue to cycle between REM and slow-wave sleep stages every
90 minutes or so throughout the night. Periods of REM last longer as the night goes on, and lighter sleep
stages predominate between these periods, with the deeper slow-wave stages 3 and 4 disappearing
halfway through the night.
1 – Falling asleep. Brain waves resemble waking patron but slowly decide to shift. Muscle activity slows
down, starting to drift off, occasional muscle twitching.
2 – Breathing and heart slows, decrease in body temperature. Slower waves, higher amplitude, easing
into sleep rhythm 7
3 & 4 – Deep sleep, really asleep. Brain generates delta waves, more spread apart larger amplitude.
Brain slowing down. Exaggerated in deep sleep. In deep sleep, the brain starts to release a neuron
chemical that parallels your body… important for dreaming. Start to dream – act out dream. Brain shuts
down body so that in dream state we can have a crazy state without out body doing the activity.
Dreaming of running but can’t run? Brain realises that the body can’t move. Symptomatic of what is
going on chemically in your brain, but brain does not understand it.
5 – Dream sleep. Body paralyzed and the mind has adventures. In a dream you can be with friend A at
location X then immediately with friend B at location Z and it doesn’t seem to mess with your head.
Sleep needs decrease over the life span, but being deprived of sleep and dreams has psychological and
Sleep following learning appears to be essential for memory consolidation; memories normally
deteriorate unless sleep occurs to help keep them in. The brain consolidates the information that was
learnt during the day and organizes it, somehow makes it easier to access later. Deep sleep taking new
information and sticking it into the memory.
Sleep loss can be fatal. When rats are forced to break Randy Gardner’s human waking record and stay
awake even longer, they have trouble regulating their body temperature and lose weight although they
eat much more than normal. Their bodily systems break down and they die, on average, in 21 days. A
few hours of sleep deprivation each night can have a cumulative detrimental effect: reducing mental
acuity and reaction time, increasing irritability and depression, and increasing the risk of accidents and
injury. Deprivation from slow-wave sleep (in stages 3 and 4), in turn, has more physical effects, with just
a few nights of deprivation leaving people feeling tired, fatigued, and hypersensitive to muscle and bone
Disorders that plague sleep include insomnia, sleep apnea, somnambulism, narcolepsy, sleep paralysis,
nightmares, and night terrors.
Insomnia: difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. Most common sleep disorder, about 15% of
adults complain of severe or frequent insomnia, and about another 15% report having mild or
occasional insomnia. There are many causes of insomnia, including anxiety associated with stressful life
events, so insomnia may sometimes be a sign of other emotional difficulties.
Sleeping pills can be useful for brief sleep problems associated with emotional events, their long-term
use it not effective. Most sleeping pills are addictive; people may become dependent on the pills to
sleep and may need to increase the dose over time to achieve the same effect. Although they promote
sleep, they reduce the proportion of time spent in REM and slow-wave sleep , robbing people of dreams
and their deepest sleep stages. As a result, the quality of sleep achieved with pills may not be as high as 8
without, and there may be side effects such as grogginess and irritability during the day. Finally,
stopping the treatment suddenly can produce insomnia that is worse than before.
Sleep apnea: a disorder in which the person stops breathing for brief periods while asleep. A person
with apnea usually snores, as apnea involves an involuntary obstruction of the breathing passage. When
episodes of apnea occur for over 10 seconds at a time and recur many times during the night, they may
cause many awakenings and sleep loss or insomnia. Apnea occurs most often in middle-age overweight
men and may go undiagnosed because it is not easy for the sleeper to notice.
Somnambulism (sleepwalking): a person arises and walks around while asleep. Common in children
(11-12), with as many as 25% of children experience at least one episode. Sleepwalking tends to happen
early in the night, usually in slow-wave sleep, and sleepwalkers may awaken during their walk or return
to bed without waking, in which case they will probably not remember the episode in the morning. The
sleepwalker’s eyes are usually open in a glassy stare.
Narcolepsy: a disorder in which sudden sleep attacks occur in the middle of waking activities.
Narcolepsy involves the intrusion of a dreaming state of sleep (with REM) into waking and is often
accompanied by unrelenting excessive sleepiness and uncontrollable sleep attacks lasting from 30
seconds to 30 minutes.
Sleep paralysis: the experience of waking up unable to move and is sometimes associated with
narcolepsy. Lasts only a few moments, happens in hypnogogic or hypnopompic sleep, and may occur
with an experience of pressure on the chest.
Night terrors: abrupt awakenings with panic and intense emotional arousal. Occur mainly in boys ages
3 to 7, happen most often in NREM sleep early in the sleep cycle and do not usually have dream content
the sleeper can report.
In dreaming, the dreamer uncritically accepts changes in emotion, thought, and sensation but poorly
remembers the dream on awakening.
There are five major characteristics of dream consciousness that distinguish it from the waking state.
i. We intensely feel emotion, whether it is bliss or terror or love or awe.
ii. Dream thought is illogical: The continuities of time, place, and person don’t apply. You may find
you are in one place and then another, for example, without any travel in between—or people
may change identity from one dream scene to the next.
iii. Sensation is fully formed and meaningful; visual sensation is predominant, and you may also
deeply experience sound, touch, and movement (although pain is very uncommon).
iv. Dreaming occurs with uncritical acceptance, as though the images and events were perfectly
normal rather than bizarre. 9
v. We have difficulty remembering the dream after it is over. People often remember dreams only
if they are awakened during the dream and even then may lose recall for the dream within just a
few minutes of waking.
We often dream about mundane topics that reflect prior waking experiences or “day residue”. Current
conscious concerns pop up, along with images from the recent past. A dream may even incorporate
sensations experienced during sleep. The content of dreams takes snapshots from the day rather than
retelling the stories of what you have done or seen. This means that dreams often come without clear
plots or storylines, and so they may not make a lot of sense. The most memorable dreams are
nightmares, and these frightening dreams can wake up the dreamer. Children have more nightmares
than adults, and people who have experienced traumatic events are inclined to have nightmares that
relive those events.
Theories of dreaming include Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and more current views such as the