PSYA01 STUDY NOTES
5.1 Consciousness and Unconscious: The Minds Eye, Open and Closed
Consciousness is a mystery of psychology because other peoples 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 ones 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 dont 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 dont 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. Its 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. Its 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 persons 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 cant 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
dont recognize themselves in the mirrors until theyve 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.
Ren 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 persons 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 smelledall are at the forefront of the mind. Much of
consciousness beyond this orientation to the environment turns to the persons 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 persons
deepest instincts and desires, and the persons 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 persons 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 persons 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 persons 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