PSY – Chap 9 Notes: Consciousness
Consciousness as a Social Phenomenon
• Historically, there have been 3 positions on the nature of consciousness
o Consciousness is not a natural phenomenon, is not subject to the laws of
science/nature. It is supernatural.
o Consciousness is a natural phenomenon but we cannot understand it.
o People are indeed conscious, and this is produced by the activity of the human
brain, and we are able to study and understand consciousness.
• To discover the functions of consciousness, we must not confuse it with complex mental
processes such as Perceiving, Remembering, or Thinking. Consciousness is the
Awareness of these processes, not the processes themselves (it exists In Addition to these
• Consciousness is not a general property of all parts of the brain
• Blindsight: the ability to interact with objects (reach for them) while remaining
consciously unaware of them. Caused by damage to the visual cortex.
• Our ability to communicate provides us with self-awareness. Self-awareness is built on
inner-speech, which allows us to describe our behaviours and compare them to others.
o Thus, consciousness is a primarily Social phenomenon.
• How does the ability to communicate symbolically give rise to consciousness?
o We can express our needs, thoughts, perceptions, memories, intentions, and
feelings to other people
• William James proposed a contrasting idea: our emotional awareness comes after a
reaction. Ex. we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we
• Readiness potential: the electrical brain activity of the motor cortex prior to the
movement. It precedes a person’s awareness of the intention to act.
• Lateralized readiness potential: measures activity specific to the side where the
• Our brain must “bind together” the experience of voluntary movement with its external
consequences. Perhaps this binding process helps us recognize the external events that
are consequences of our behaviour
• Selective attention: determines which events we become consciousness of (particular
stimuli or stimuli in a particular location). Our “attention mechanisms” serve to enhance
our responsiveness to certain stimuli and tune out irrelevant information
• Dichotic listening: task that requires a person to listen to 1 of 2 different messages being
presented simultaneously (thru headphones)
• Shadowing: the act of continuously repeating verbal material as soon as it is heard
o Results from the experiment suggest that a channel of sensory input (one ear) can
simply be turned off. However, we are able to notice and remember some characteristics of info received from the unattended ear- to some extent we are
able to store the info temporarily.
• Cocktail party phenomenon: we might be trying to converse with one person while we
are in a room with several other people who are carrying their own conversations.
• Visual attention: we can successfully attend to the Location, Nature (physical features),
and Meaningfulness (relevance to what we are seeing) of information
o Location: selective attention can affect the detection of visual stimuli: if it occurs
where we expect it, we perceive it more quickly and vice versa.
o Nature: while 2 events are going on simultaneously, we can only follow 1 scene
and remember what happened.
o Meaningfulness: Change Blindness: the inability to remember a scene in its
entirety. When we fail to attend to a feature, we don’t encode it and cant
recognize it when it changes.
Inattentional blindness: failure to perceive an event when attention is
diverted elsewhere. It is the similarity of the unexpected event with the
things we attend to that determine inattentional blindness.
Consciousness and the Brain
• If human consciousness is related to speech, then it is probably related to the brain
mechanisms that control comprehension and production of speech. For us to be aware of
a piece of information, the info must be transmitted to neural circuits in the brain
responsible for our communicative behaviour.
o However, consciousness is not simply activity of the brain’s speech mechanisms:
it is activity prompted by information received from other parts of the brain
concerning Memories or events presently occurring in the environment.
• Isolation aphasia: caused by damage that isolates that brain’s speech mechanisms from
other parts of the brain. A language disturbance that includes an inability to comprehend
speech or produce meaningful speech, but there is still the ability to repeat speech and
learn new sequences of words
• Visual agnosia: inability of a non-blind person to recognize the identity of an object