State of Consciousness

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Chapter 3 : State of Consciousness

State of Consciousness arrow_upward

  • Consciousness as defined within psychology is the awareness of both external and internal stimuli and events.
  • Neuroscientists believe that consciousness emerges from the interaction of individual brain events much like a chord is created from different musical notes.
  • Consciousness is our level of awareness about us and our environment and can be divided into the following levels:

  • Levels


    Conscious level

    The information about yourself and your environment of which you are currently aware.

    Subconscious level

    Information that we are not consciously aware of but we know must exist due to behavior.

    Unconscious level

    Unconsciousness is the condition of being unaware or unknowing.

  • Psychologists divide consciousness into two broad areas:
    • Waking Consciousness
    • This includes the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that arise when we are awake and reasonably alert.
    • Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)
    • During ASC, our mental state differs noticeably from normal waking consciousness.

    Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) arrow_upward

  • An Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) is defined as a condition in which there are significant changes from the normal waking state in cognitive and behavioral functioning.
  • Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) include the following:
    • Natural variation in consciousness
    • Artificial variation in consciousness
    • Drug-altered consciousness

    Natural Variation in Consciousness arrow_upward

  • Natural variations in consciousness include the following:
    • Sleep
    • Dreams
    • Daydreaming

    Sleep arrow_upward

  • Sleep is a natural state of rest characterized by reduced body movement and decreased awareness of surroundings.

  • Stages of Sleep

  • The stages of sleep follow a predictable pattern:

  • Stages


    Stage 1

  • Slowing of the pulse.
  • Muscle relaxation.
  • Side-to-side rolling movements of the eyes.
  • Stage 2

  • Heart rate and breathing slows.
  • Body temperature decreases.
  • Stage 3

  • Progressively deeper into true sleep.
  • Stage 4

  • A very deep sleep also characterized by increased delta waves.

  • Types of Sleep

  • Sleep can also be divided into two main types:
    • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep
    • Non-REM Sleep

    Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

  • This comes and goes throughout the night, and makes up about one fifth of our sleep time.
  • During REM sleep, our brain is very active, our muscles are very relaxed, our eyes move quickly from side to side and we dream.

  • Non-REM Sleep

  • The brain is quiet, but the body may move around.
  • Hormones are released into the bloodstream and our body repairs itself after the wear and tear of the day.

  • Sleep Disorders

  • Many people are afflicted by sleep disorders:
    • Insomnia
    • Apnea
    • Narcolepsy
    • Somnambulism


  • Insomnia is characterized by difficulty in falling asleep or remaining asleep throughout the night.

  • Apnea

  • Apnea is marked by breathing difficulties during the night and feelings of exhaustion during the day.

  • Narcolepsy

  • Narcolepsy is a hereditary sleep disorder characterized by sudden nodding off during the day and sudden loss of muscle tone following moments of emotional excitement.

  • Somnambulism

  • The common name for somnambulism is sleep-walking.

  • Dreams arrow_upward

  • Dreams are visual or auditory experiences that occur primarily during REM periods of sleep.
  • Dreams seem to be influenced by our waking lives.

  • Daydreaming arrow_upward

  • Daydreaming occurs without effort, often when we seek to briefly escape the demands of the real world.
  • Daydreams and fantasies allow us to express and deal with hidden desires without guilt or anxiety.

  • Artificial Variation in Consciousness arrow_upward

  • Causes of artificial variations in consciousness include the following:
    • Sensory Deprivation
    • Meditation
    • Hypnosis
    • Drug-Altered Consciousness

    Sensory Deprivation arrow_upward

  • Sensory Deprivation is the extreme reduction of sensory stimuli.
  • Research indicates that it can cause such symptoms as:
    • Altered perceptions
    • Hallucinations
    • Dreaming
    • Daydreaming
    • Fantasizing

    Meditation arrow_upward

  • A state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts.
  • Meditation refers to any of several methods of concentration, reflection, or focusing which is intended to suppress the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Meditation not only lowers the metabolic rate but also reduces heart and respiratory rates.

  • Hypnosis arrow_upward

  • Hypnosis is a state of mind in which a person's conscious critical thinking mind is bypassed and communication with the subconscious mind is established.
  • Being hypnotized is usually characterized by:
    • Intense concentration
    • Extreme relaxation
    • High suggestibility

    Drug-Altered Consciousness arrow_upward

  • A drug is any chemical agent or substance which affects the psychology and physiology of the body.
  • There are four main types of drugs:
    • Stimulants
    • Depressants
    • Narcotics
    • Hallucinogens


  • Stimulants are drugs that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and produce feelings of optimism and boundless energy, making the potential for their abuse significant. e.g. Tobacco, Caffeine.

  • Depressants

  • Depressants are chemicals that slow down behavior and cognitive processes. For e.g. Alcohol.

  • Narcotics

  • Narcotics dull the senses and induce stupor, drowsiness, or unconsciousness. For e.g. heroine.

  • Hallucinogens

  • Hallucinogens are any of a number of drugs that distort visual and auditory perception e.g. phencyclidine.

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