Psychology- The study of human behaviour
Consciousness as a Social Phenomenon
Can We Understand Consciousness?
• One position is that consciousness is not a natural phenomenon but something
supernatural and miraculous.
• The second position is that consciousness is a natural phenomenon, but also that for
some reasons we cannot understand it.
• The third position is that people are indeed conscious, that consciousness is produced
by the activity of the brain, and that we should be optimistic in understanding it.
• Hebb came up with the third idea but disagreed that consciousness was nothing but
impulses. There was a higher psychological level to it.
The Adaptive Significance of Consciousness
• Consciousness is defined to be the awareness of a process, not the action of it.
• Consciousness is not a general property of all parts of the brain.
The Blindsight phenomenon is the ability to reach for objects accurately while
remaining unaware of seeing them. This is caused by damage to the visual cortex.
• Self-awareness is built on inner speech and how we communicate with others through
Consciousness and the Ability to Communicate
• In order to communicate with others, we must be able to translate private events into
symbolic expressions. Also, through our symbols we must be able to affect the
listener. We must make them think and make what we said a part of their memory.
• We can also communicate with ourselves privately when we think to ourselves. This
symbolically gives rise to consciousness.
Cheesman and Merikle conducted an experiment and found that incongruent primes
produce a stroop like effect when naming colours.
• Conscious awareness is therefore the ability describe and use the physiological events
that are private to ourselves.
• Most calls and warnings from other animals are automatic non conscious acts.
However new languages may be learned. Chimpanzees viewing themselves in mirrors
suggests that they have a sense of self-awareness.
• Computers can even be seen as conscious! Consciousness and the Control of Behaviour
• William James suggested that awareness comes after a reaction. We feel sorry
because we cry.
• Below is shown the Top Hat Illusion. The bottom and sides look different in leangth but
are one of the same:
• Ganel and Goodale conducted an experiment and found that people cannot tell the
difference in width of blocks if the length is constantly changing. Therefore shape
• If length was not changed however, people could tell the difference easily.
• The Ebbinghaus Illusion is a trick that makes us think something is different in size
due to the relative size of objects around it. look below:
• However our awareness differs from our action. If this were a quarter in the centre, we
would not be tricked whatsoever.
• Libet and colleagues conducted an experiment in which people were asked to make a
hand motion when the hand of a clock moved.
It was found that the actual movement (readiness potential) occurred tenths of
seconds before the intent was made. • Haggard and Eimer conducted an experiment and found that the lateralized readiness
potential may reflect brain activity that leads to awareness about action since they
• however lateralized readiness only works for half the body, so there must be a more
general scheme of how things work.
• Haggard, Clark, and Kalogeras found that in operant trials the reported time of the
voluntary movement were early and the tone was late.
A binding process must occur to bind voluntary movement with external
• Obhi found that sensory experience is very correlated to the amount of awareness we
have. If sensory experiences are dim, we tend to think they have been happening
longer. If strong, we are more accurate in telling the experimenter when it started and
when it ended.
• The process that controls awareness of particular categories or event in the
environment is called Selective Attention.
• We take in more sensory information than we can process and store into short term
• Be exerting control over what comes into short term memory we can control what is
stored into long term memory and therefore leave out what we do not need.
• Why don’t we process all information? Broadbent says that the mechanisms that
process information have certain limits and cannot handle a certain amount.
• Cherry did an experiment that involved Dichotic Listening. Subjects had to recognize
one of two sounds coming into each ear.
• Subjects were asked to Shadow (repeat) one of two messages heard in one of the
• It was found that one ear can be turned off as the subjects cannot recognize what
happened in that ear.
• Some words however can stand out and no interference will disrupt them. Swear
words and vulgar words are of this kind.
McKay found that participants could hear different things depending on what was
presented to the unattended ear.
Attended: They threw stones toward the bank yesterday
Unattended: Money They think they heard:
They threw stones towards the savings and loan association yesterday
• Triesman found that people can follow a message that is being shadowed even if it
switches from one ear to another.
• Once the sentence stops making sense, the message in the other ear is remembered
through short term memory and you can put everything together.
• The cocktail-party phenomenon occurs when people are conversing and you anage to
pay attention to the person in front of you.
• we successfully attend to location, nature, and meaningfulness of information in order
to selectively attend to certain ideas.
• Posner and colleagues conducted an experiment and found that when people are
given false instructions, they will recognize a stimulus slower than people that are
given direction as to where the stimulus will occur.
Neisser and Becklen conducted an experiment similar to the cocktail-party
phenomenon (using tv videos) and found that people could attend to both scenes at
• Simons tells us that our visual experience is rich however our ability to represent it is
If visual displays are changed after a saccade or obstruction is produced, Change
• Pearson and Schaefer conducted an experiment and found that a meaningful change
in any picture was strongly noticed. Minor details were not
Nisbett showed us that cultural background can have an effect as to what people find
to be meaningful and meaningless.
• Simons and Levin found out that at times (such as giving someone directions) some
details are payed attention to, like the streets, and others are missed, like the person
changing clothes after a brief distraction! • The visual system is prone to Inattentional Blindness which is a failure to perceive an
event when attention is averted elsewhere.
• The unusual nature of an event makes it more likely to be missed. A gorilla goes more
unnoticed than a old lady with an umbrella!
Brain Mechanisms of Selective Attention
• Corbetta and colleagues conducted experiments to see how the brain reacts when
focusing specifically on shape, speed, and colour of 30 rectangles. When focusing on
only one of three attributes, it was found through PET scans that a specific part of the
visual association cortex were activated.
• Luck and colleagues found in monkeys that their neurons were primed when looking
for a certain cue.
Consciousness and the Brain
Isolation Aphasia: A Case of Global Unawareness
• Geschwind and colleagues found a woman who had extensive brain damage due to
inhalation of the poisonous carbon monoxide (CO). The damage destroyed parts of
the visual association cortex and spared the auditory cortex.
• The syndrome reported is called Isolation Aphasia and is a language disturbance that
causes the inability to comprehend speech or produce meaningful speech, and also
the ability to repeat speech and learn new words.
• The woman could only repeat words that she heard not saw.
Visual Agnosia: Lack of awareness of Visual Perceptions
• Inflammation of blood vessels causes Visual Agnosia. This is the inability to recognize
an object visually. (The man who mistakend his wife for a hat).
• The man could look at a picture and let his hands “TALK” allowing him to judge what is
in the picture based on what the hand does.
The Split-Brain Syndrome
• Neurosurgeons operate on people with severe epilepsy by conducting a Split-Brain
Operation. The corpus callosum which connects the two hemispheres of the brain is
cut and reduces the frequency of the epileptic seizures.
• After the two hemispheres are separated, they operate independently from one
another. The two hemispheres can no longer exchange information.
• Side effects are that the right hemisphere cannot produce speech and is poor at
reading and writing. • Patients notice that after the operation, their left hand seems to have a mind of its
• One exception to the contralateral brain is the olfactory system. If someone that has
undergone a split-brain operation smells from the right, they will report nothing (But
will still perceive it!). But if the left nostril smells something, the person will report a
• This is demonstrated through experimentation. If the persons left nostril is covered,
they still reach for the source of the odour! wow haha :)
• There have been reports of hands fighting with one another, even a case where a man