States of Consciousness
The puzzle of consciousness
Consciousness- our moment-to-moment awareness of our environment and ourselves.
o Subjective and private- other people cannot directly know what reality is for you, nor
can you enter directly into their experience.
o Dynamic (ever changing)- flowing stream of mental activity
o Self-reflective and central to our senses of self- not matter what your awareness is
focused on, you can reflect upon the fact that you are the one who is conscious of it
o Intimately connected with the process of selective attention- selective attention focuses
conscious awareness on some stimuli to the exclusion of others.
Measuring states of consciousness
The most common measure is self-report, in which people describe their inner experiences.
Off the most direct insight into a persons subjective experiences, but they are not always
In contrast, psychological measures establish the correspondence between bodily states and
mental processes. Psychological measures are objective, but cannot tell us what a person is
experiencing subjectively- EEGs record brain activity and identify different stages of sleep.
Behavioral measures also are used, including performance on special tasks such as the rouge
test. Behavioral measures are objective, but we still must infer the persons state of mind.
Levels of consciousness: psychodynamic and cognitive perspectives
Sigmund Freud proposed that the human mind consist of three levels of awareness
o Conscious mind contains thoughts, perceptions, and other mental events of which we
are currently aware.
o Preconscious mental events are outside currents awareness, but can easily be recalled
under certain conditions.
o Unconscious events cannot be brought into conscious awareness under ordinary
circumstances. /some unconscious content like sexual drives, traumatic memories, and
emotional conflict are kept out of conscious awareness because it would arouse anxiety
Cognitive psychologists and many contemporary psychodynamic psychologists also take issue
with specific aspects of Freuds model.
They sought to explain without invoking conscious mental processes, much less unconscious
Out of date
However research strongly supports Freuds belief that nonconscious processes influence
The cognitive unconscious
Cognitive psychologists reject the notion of an unconscious mind driven by urges and
They view the conscious and unconscious mental life as complementary forms of information
Reisberg- cognitive unconscious functions act as a support service.
1 Controlled vs. automatic processing.
Controlled processing- the voluntary use of attention and conscious effort (planning a vacation
Automatic processing- performed with little or no conscious effort. (Carrying out routine
actions or well learned skills)
o Eat with utensils
o Through years of practice, these skills can be performed with minimum conscious
Ellen Langer (1989) points out that automatic processing has a key disadvantage:
o It can reduce our chances of finding new ways to approach problems.
Controlled processing requires effort and therefore is slower than automatic processing, but it is
more flexible and open to change.
Still, automatic processing offers speed and economy of effort
Too much self-focused thinking can hurt task performance and cause people to choke under
Automatic processing also facilitates divided attention- the ability to perform more than on
activity at the same time.
Without the capacity to divide attention, every act would require our full attention and quickly
overwhelm our mental capacity
Yet it has limits, and is more difficult when tasks require similar mental resources
Serious consequences- collision rates triple when people talk on the telephone while driving-
they are more likely to speed, run off the road, hit fixed objects.
Hands free cell phones also delay and reduce braking.
The emotional unconscious
Emotional and motivational processes operate unconsciously and influence behaviour.
Makes us act in a way that we cannot understand.
For example, the amnesia patient. Clarapede pricked her in the hand with a pin hidden in his
hand. When he tried to prick her again, she suddenly withdrew her hand, despite her not
consciously remembering the first prick.
Chartrand and Bargh subliminally presented university students with very positive or very
negative words, or neutral. The students were asked to rate their mood. Although they were not
consciously aware of the messages, those shown strongly negative words were the saddest and
those presented with strongly positive were in the happiest mood.
The modular mind
Freud challenged the view that the mind as a single entity
Today, it is proposed that the mind is a collection of largely separate but interacting modules.
These modules are information processing subsystems or networks within the brain that
perform tasks related to sensation, perception, memory, problem solving, emotion, motor
behaviour and so on.
Information is processed in parallel form- simultaneously and largely independently.
2 Our subjective experience of unitary consciousness arises form the integrated output of these
For example, we hear a choir sing uniformly, not the independent voice.
The output from on modules can provide input for another.
Circadian Rhythms: our daily biological clocks
A rhythmic change that affects our mental alertness and readies our passage back and forth
between states of wakefulness and sleep.
Keeping time: brain and environment
Most of the brains rhythms are regulated by the brains suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), located
in the hypothalamus.
Ralph confirmed that the SCN is the brains clock
He transplanted normal, healthy SCN neurons in the hypothalamus of animals whose own SCN
had been destroyed, and he found that the transplanted neurons restored the circadian rhythms
to the animals.
The SCN neurons have a genetically programmed cycle of activity and inactivity, functioning
like a biological clock.
They link to the tiny pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, a hormone that as a relaxing effect
on the body.
SCN neurons become active during the daytime and reduce the pineal glands secretions of
melatonin, raising the body temperature and heightening alertness.
At night the SCN neurons are inactive, allowing melatonin levels to increase and promoting
relaxation and sleepiness.
It is biological, but also environmental.
Factors such as the daynight cycles help keep SCN neurons on a 24 hour schedule
Your eyes have neural connections to the SCN. The light of day increases SCN activity and
helps reset your 24-hour biological clock.
Most people drift into a longer natural cycle of about 24.2-24.8 hours, called a free-runner
Participants in these isolated studies tend to go to bed and wake up later each day.
Within a few weeks, they may be going to bed at room and awakening at midnight.
Blind people may experience this- insomnia and daytime fatigue
Early birds and night owls
Circadian rhythms influence our tendency to be a morning person or a night person.
Morning people go to bed and rise earlier and their body temperature, blood pressure, and
alertness peak earlier in the day.
Early birds tend to perform best on some mental tasks in the morning, whereas might owls
perform best in the late afternoon or evening.
Environmental disruptions of circadian rhythms
Environmental changes can disrupt our circadian rhythms.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a cyclic tendency to become psychologically depressed
during certain months of the year. Symptoms typically begin in fall or winter, which usher in
shorter periods of daylight, and lift in spring.
3 They are particularly sensitive to light, so when sunrise is later in the winter, the onset of their
circadian clock is pushed back.
Thus they are in sleepiness mode long after the alarm clock sounds.
Jet lag is a sudden circadian disruption caused by flying across several time zones in one day.
Flying east, you lose hours from the day; flying west, the travel day becomes longer than 24
Often causes insomnia, decreased alertness, and poorer performance until the body readjusts.
Concern for businesspeople athletes, airline crews etc.
People adjust fast when flying west because lengthening the ravel day is more compatible with
our natural free running circadian cycle.
Most problematic circadian disruption for society is caused by night sh