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4.1. What is Consciousness?

This of the biggest questions remained to be answered in science. There are many different approaches to answer this question.

One definition is: Sensory awareness of the environment.



4.1a Consciousness and Awareness

Other aspects of consciousness:

  • Selective attention: the focus of one’s attention to a particular stimulus
      • Cocktail party effect:  a phenomenon that explains we can pick out a speech of a single person across a room at a cocktail party.
    • Direct Inner Awareness: knowledge of of one’s thoughts, images, emotions, and memories without the use of sensory organs
        • Example: imagine eating your favorite dessert.

4.1b Conscious, Preconscious, Unconscious, and Nonconscious

Psychodynamic theories (These are some of Sigmund Freud’s theories, but we will talk more about him on Chapter 10 and 13)

  • Preconscious – material that is not currently in awareness, but readily available.
      • If I ask you…What did you have for breakfast? You have the answer readily available.
    • Unconscious – ideas and feelings that are not available to awareness; also: without consciousness
      • Most of them are painful and we reject (or repress)them automatically.
      • Repression: ejecting painful memories from awareness
      • Suppression: when we deliberate eject unwanted memories from our consciousness
    • NonConscious: Bodily processes that cannot be experienced through sensory awareness or direct inner awareness
      • Growing hair, firing of neurons



4.2 Sleep and Dreams

4.2a Biological and Circadian Rhythms

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping!

Circadian rhythm: is a cycle that is connected to the 24-hour period of the earth’s rotation.

  • Cues for day and night ( light vs darkness) activate proteins in the retinas of our eye – these proteins signal our brain to wake up or go to sleep.


When we are awake our brain emits high frequency waves.

One undergoes five cycles through the stages of sleep

Sleep is associated with low frequency waves.

  • Beta waves–  brain waves associated with being awake
  • Alpha waves–  brain waves associated with feelings of relaxation
  • Theta waves–  brain waves produced during sleep
  • Delta waves –  brain waves usually emitted during stage 4 sleep

Non-rapid eye movement: (NREM)

Stage 1:

    • theta waves
    • hypnagogic stage (may experience vivid dreams)
    • lightest stage of sleep

Stages 2, 3 and 4:

    • after 30-40 mins of sleep
    • deep sleep occurs during stages 3-4
    • most difficult time to be awaken

Rapid eye movement: (REM)

    • around 30 mins after deep sleep on stage 4
    • brain waves similar to those when we are awake
    • difficult to be awaken
    • associated with more vivid dreaming

4.2c The Functions of Sleep

We need sleep to:

  • Rejuvenate the body
  • Recover from stress
  • Consolidate Learning
  • May promote infant’s brain development

The amount of sleep we need, seems to be, in part, genetically determined.

4.2d Dreams

Dreams produce imagery that is produced in the absence of external stimulation.

  • Most vivid during REM sleep
  • Vague and fleeting during NREM sleep
  • Could be in color or black and white
  • Involve memories of the day
  • Traumatic events can lead to nightmares
  • Reflections of unconscious desires, as suggested by Freud

4.3 Altered state of consciousness

Altered state of consciousness:

  • Hypnosis
  • Meditation
  • Biofeedback (not included on this page)

4.2 Hypnosis

  • Hypnosis–  an altered state of consciousness in which people are highly suggestible and behave as though they are in a trance
    • used for entertainment, for some types of therapies and relaxation
    • it is not SLEEP!
    • some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others
  • … but how can people be hypnotized?
    • Role Theory:Changes in behavior can be successfully imitated when people are instructed to behave as though they were hypnotized
    • Response set theory: Expectations play a role in the production of experiences suggested by the hypnotist

4.3b Meditation

Meditationprocess by which people seems to suspend thinking and allow the world to fade away

Transcendental meditation (TM)

  • Concentrates on mantras
  • Produces relaxation response

Mindfulness meditation (MM)

  • Helps focusing on the present rather than ruminating about problems

4.4 Altering Consciousness through drugs

Drugs can alter our state of consciousness:

  • Psychoactive Substances: Drugs that distort perceptions and change moods


    • Depressants – a drug that lowersthe rate of activity of the nervous system (Ex.  alcohol, opioids, cannabis)
  • Stimulants – a drug that increasesthe rate of activity of the nervous system (Ex. Adderall, Ritalin, Caffeine)

4.5 Depressants

4.5a Alcohol.


  • Most abused drug: Alcohol
    • Linked to lowering productivity, loss of employment, and lowering social status
      • Binge drinking is connected with aggressive behavior, poor grades, promiscuity, and accidents


  • Lowers inhibitions
  • Induces feelings of euphoria and elation
  • Impairs cognitive functioning and coordination
  • Men are more likely to become alcoholic than women
  • Can lead to physiological dependence (addiction)

4.5b Opiates and Opioids. 

  • Group of narcotics derived from the opium poppy
    • Opioidsare produced in a laboratory
  • Include morphine, heroin, codeine, and demerol
    • Medical application – Pain relief
    • Provide a strong euphoric rush
  • Can lead to physiological dependence (addiction)

4.6 Stimulants

4.6a Amphetamines and Related Stimulants

Group of stimulants originally used by soldiers during WWII to help them stay alert throughout the night.

    • Produce feelings of rush and euphoria
    • Use to treat children with ADHD, because they have been shown to increase attention span
    • Tolerance for amphetamines develops quickly and users can become dependent


Produces euphoria, reduces hunger, deadens pain, and boosts self-confidence

Physical dangers

Sudden rises in blood pressure, decreased oxygen supply to the heart, increased heart rate, and respiratory and cardiovascular collapse


Causes restlessness and insomnia, tremors, headaches, nausea, convulsions, hallucinations, and delusions

4.6b Nicotine

  • Stimulates discharge of the hormone adrenalineand the release of neurotransmitters (e.g, dopamine and endorphins)
  • Enhances memory and attention and has a relaxing effect
  • Depresses appetite and raises metabolic rate
  • Effects of cigarette smoking
    • Hydrocarbons (tars) can lead to lung cancer
    • Stiffens arteries
    • Increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm births, stillborn babies, and children with learning problems in pregnant women
    • Secondhand smoke is connected to respiratory illnesses and different types of cancer

Electronic cigarettes – Help obtain nicotine

  • Avoid inhalation of cancer-causing hydrocarbons

4.7 Hallucinogenics

4.7a Marijuana

  • THC – Psychedelic substance involved
  • May alter time perception
  • Increases one’s awareness of bodily sensations and heightens sexual sensations
  • Causes disorientation that may be pleasant or threatening
  • Perceptual-motor coordination, short-term memory, and learning can be impaired
  • Strong intoxication leads to nausea and vomiting
  • Regular users may experience tolerance and withdrawal symptoms


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Psychology 041 – Life Span Psychology

1.  History and Fundamentals