What is Consciousness?

Conciousness can take many forms, while other mental processes happen at the same time outside our awareness.

The word "conscious" does not have the same meaning as the word "conscience," although they sound similar, be sure not to confuse these two terms. The term "conscience" refers to the "voice" in your head associated with distinguishing right from wrong, whereas the term "conscious" refers to the awareness of sensations, existence, thoughts, and your surroundings.

Cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and computer scientists have all made major contributions to the study of consciousness. Advancements in technology, along with a general curiosity about the subject, has led to a multidisciplinary effort referred to as cognitive neuroscience.

Every day, you find yourself in situations that require your full attention, be it at school, at work, or while driving; this is consciousness at work. The conscious mind is like a safety deposit box, in that you can only remove a few things from the box at a time just like you can only focus on a few things at a time. Nothing else has your attention until your brain needs to focus on it.

Consciousness is the underlying process in which the creation of mental representations (models) of the world that we perceive or create exists. In the conscious mind, we retrieve facts, ideas, emotions, or memories. Behaviorists, such as John Watson, emphasized that psychology was only influenced by our actions, and that, because of this, consciousness could not exist. Structuralists often use introspection, the process of reporting on someone's mental processes, to study consciousness even though it has been deemed inaccurate by skeptics. On the contrary, bio-psychologists often use high-tech brain scanning/imaging tools, such as the MRI, fMRI, PET, and EEG, to explore and study the physical changes occurring in the brain during different stages of consciousness. However, these scanners cannot show the full picture of an individual's cognitive experience.
Joseph P. Hornak, Ph.D.
Two additional techniques used to look at the underlying mental processes involved in consciousness are the "zoom in process" and mental rotation. An example of "zooming in" would be visualizing your house, and then visualizing the more specific features of it, such as your windows or your front door. Another example of this would be thinking first about the color of your car, then thinking about the color of the stereo system's buttons. In both of these examples, it would take you longer to describe the smaller details of an object than it will for you to remember the color of the paint on your car. Mental rotation is the way our minds automatically rotate images in order to compare them. In this process, it does not take a long time to compare two images that have been rotated at a relatively small angle; however, as the angle increases, our ability to compare them takes longer.

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Mental Rotation



Our conscious processes aren't able to multi-task very well, so several non-conscious processes can run at the same time. For instance, having the ability to walk and breathe at the same time is an example of non-conscious multi-tasking. In contrast, when we try to read and listen to music at the same time, it's harder to comprehend what's occurring in both at the same time because our consciousness would rather us fully focus on one or the other. Consciousness has to process information in series, while non-conscious brain circuits are able to process many different streams of consciousness at the same time. *Remember Freud's iceberg. Consciousness is small, and can only hold few things in focus. The unconscious is vast and hidden, and contains memories and facts you aren't thinking about right now but that you can recall any time.


Consciousness has three important functions: restriction, combination and manipulation. First, it restricts our attention. For example, people get in car accidents while text messaging because their focus is on the phone and not the road. We cannot fully pay attention to either when our mind is on both things at once. Second, it provides a "meeting place" for sensation and memories. The job of combination is to create meaning, and manipulation helps in creating a mental model of the world that we can manipulate. Things like memory, emotions, motives, and other psychological processes are provided by consciousness as well. These functions prevent our brains from being overwhelmed by stimulation and allow us to plan and evaluate possible responses to a stimulus. Third, it allows our mind to help create a mental model of the world we can manipulate.

Sigmund Freud compared our consciousness to the "tip of an iceberg", because what we see in our consciousness is only a small portion (20%-80%) of your entire consciousness, the rest being our unconsciousness ("the bigger underwater portion of the iceberg"). The visible part of the iceberg represents what we feel and are aware of, the invisible part represents that which we can never/don't know except for the theorizations of psychologists.

iceberg.jpg

While many cognitive psychologists reject his ideas as "fantasies", Freud's theory regarding the mind's two divisions, unconscious and preconscious, is still respected. Pre-conscious memories deal with our basic memories and knowledge of facts, and they return to our consciousness easily when something triggers them to recall. The unconscious mind consists of many processes that run without us noticing them, such as breathing and heart-beating, and, according to Freud, many of our dark thoughts. These processes are examples of unconscious processing. A good example of this is demonstrated with a concept known as priming, which is when an individual gives an answer to a problem without knowing that they were being influenced non-consciously to give that answer.

The unconscious division controls/stores the thoughts and unknown feelings that one has. One's unconscious stores the bad thoughts that your unconscious and pre-conscious do not want to remember. These thoughts are so dark or grim that your mind pushes them as far away from the surface as possible. These thoughts are usually expressed as outbursts of fear and/or emotion, or during the NREM phase in which a "bad dream" can occur. (Monsters,evil,boogie-man)






Consciousness changes in cycles that correspond to our biological rhythms and to the patterns of stimulation in our environment.


Have you ever been caught daydreaming? Daydreaming is a mild state of consciousness which is a dreamlike "musing" or "fantasy" while awake, especially of the fulfillment of wishes or hopes. When someone daydreams, their attention turns inward to memories, expectations, and desires. Daydreaming occurs most often when people are alone, relaxed, or in a boring routine/task. For example, in AP Psych, you might daydream during the research methods unit (boring) about your goal of getting into your dream college and becoming a billionaire. Also, when you are just about to fall asleep, daydreams can be valuable to our health by allowing us to contemplate and solve problems; they can feature constant and unwanted thoughts on wishes, worries, or fantasies. Daydreaming is in fact different from night dreaming in the sense that daydreams are neither as vivid or mysterious as night dreams, and your daydreams are under your control. Daydreams also let us learn consequences in real life situations. We often think of scenarios while we daydream and come up with many "cause & effects" of the scenarios. Daydreaming is like your own personal counselor stored into your brain. Daydreaming is healthy for your brain!.
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Daydreaming


The Biology of Sleep

The cycles of conscious states are best shown in bodily patterns that repeat approximately every 24 hours called circadian rhythms. Internal control of these recurring rhythms resides in a "biological clock" that sets the cadence of functions. Within the sleep segment of your circadian rhythms there are more distinct states of consciousness. In 1952, Eugene Aserinsky recorded the brain waves and the muscle movements in the eyes of his sleeping son. There was a rapid movement of the eyeballs and a variety of brain activity within the boy about an hour and a half into his sleep. Every 90 minutes we are asleep, our body enters a stage called REM sleep where the eyes move rapidly for several minutes and then stop. Rapid eye movement happens in the first stage of sleep and is the time in which dreaming occurs ; the rest of the body is immobile, or experiencing sleep paralysis, during this time. During REM sleep, we are expected to have vivid, colorful, bizarre thoughts. Brain activity is high during REM sleep. The time in between each activity, we are in NREM sleep. While in NREM sleep, the eyes do not move rapidly. NREM sleep is the sleeper's deepest stage of sleep. Brain activity is low during NREM sleep. Sleep paralysis is said to have been a defense during the time of cavemen in order to prevent them from acting out their dreams and bringing harm to themselves unintentionally, such as walking off a cliff.

The Stages of Sleep

The most important biological cycle is our sleep cycle. On the surface, someone sleeping appears to have little to no activity; however, internally we are very much alert and lively, especially in the brain. When we are fully awake, EEG patterns show fast brain waves called beta waves. When drowsy, EEG patterns show alpha waves. While asleep, there are many stages of brainwave activity. The stages determined by EEG scans, include the following-
  • Stage 1: The brain has slow activity and some fast activity. (theta and beta waves)
  • Stage 2: The brain has short bursts of fast electrical activity, but slower brain activity for the most part.
  • Stages 3 and 4: The person sleeping enters a relaxed state of deep sleep. Both the heart and breathing rates are slowed down along with the brain activity. (delta waves)
  • Stage 4: Is the deepest sleep that occurs in our sleep cycle. Brain activity is very erratic during this stage. Sleep walking and sleep talking take place here, in the deepest stage of NREM sleep.
As stage four ends, the electrical activity in the brain increases and the steps are revisited in the reverse order. When the sleeper returns to stage 1, REM sleep occurs for the first time and then stops within several minutes. Beta waves also reappear.

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When people get significantly less sleep than needed night after night, a sleep shortage is produced. Researcher William Dement called this a sleep debt. When sleep is cut so short that inadequate amounts of REM sleep occurs, the body does not receive its much needed break through sleep paralysis. To catch up on REM sleep a person who has been sleep deprived will engage in a change in sleep patterns known as REM rebound , where REM sleep is entered into almost immediately. The deepest point in the sleep cycle occurs in stage 4, about a half hour after the onset of sleep. With chronic sleep debt, we are never as alert and mentally efficient as one should be with enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can have a drastic effect on cognitive and motor functioning. Studies have shown that people with significant sleep debts behave similarly to intoxicate people if not completely equal to.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the functions of dreams, as well as whether they are meaningful events or just random activities during the night. From a cognitive perspective experts see dreams as meaningful mental events, serving important cognitive needs or reflecting important events or fantasies in the dreamer's mental world. Some argue that dreams are just the brain's random activity during sleep and the content of the dream has no special meaning. Sigmund Freud believed dreams were "the royal road to the unconscious" and that they were created by the tensions that occurred that day. According to his theory, dreams have two main functions: guarding sleep by disguising disruptive thoughts with symbols and serving as sources of wish fulfillment. Sleep is essential for a person's health; if you have not had enough sleep for even one night, the resulting drowsiness the next day gets in the way of your mental concentration. Since the brain is not rested enough, it will tend to be tired as it did not have enough opportunity to rejuvenate itself. Freud's theory also distinguished between the narrative, or Manifest Content, of a dream and the symbolic, or Latent Content, of a dream. A dream's content varies by culture, which has shaped dreams by influencing odd occurrences within the mental state, as well as gender and age. For example, cavemen who lived in more crowded areas may have had more dreams featuring people, while cavemen who lived in areas with more wild animals may have had more dreams featuring wild animals.

Studies show that the first cycle of REM sleep dreaming reflects back on the occurrences of the day. As the night progresses, the dreams that happen within REM sleep cycles will reflect on the themes learned from the previous one. This is why when you wake up in the morning that there are only few connections that make sense to you in relations to your life. However, some believe that dreams have no connection to consequences or lessons. The Activation-Synthesis Theory says that dreams will result when the sleeping brain tries to make sense of its own spontaneous bursts of electrical activity. Those who support this theory believe that dreams have their origin in random neural discharges emitted by the brain stem. When the burst of energy crosses the cerebral cortex, impressions of sensation, memory, motivation, emotion, and movement are experienced. A dream could merely be the brain trying to make sense of the electrical nonsense. This theory recognizes influences from gender, age, culture, and recent events on dream content.

Sleep Disorders

Incredibly, 100 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation or poor-quality sleep, and people who take sleeping pills only further disturb their sleep patterns because the pills shorten their valuable REM cycles. All sleep disorders disrupt the sleep cycle in some way. Insomnia, the most common disorder, affects nearly one-third of all adults. Its symptoms include chronic inability to fall asleep, suddenly waking during the night, or early-morning awakening. Another common disorder, Sleep Apnea, can cause daytime sleepiness and obnoxious snoring. The cause is an abnormal breathing pattern where one will often stop breathing for up to one minute for as many as hundreds of times during the night. The airway muscle relaxes and snoring is heard when air tries to escape from the collapsed airway. If sleep apnea occurs in an infant, it could be lethal as it is related to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Another contributor to loss of sleep, which is often mistaken as a nightmare, is a Night Terror. The difference between a night terror and a nightmare is the stage of sleep the person is in when experiencing the episode; night terrors occur in deep sleep while nightmares occur in REM sleep . Night terrors are similar to sleepwalking and sleep talking. Night Terrors involve your vocal chords spawning, causing you to scream when you wake up. There are no health threats to any of these conditions however they can each lead to dangerous situations. Fortunately, night terrors usually diminish by the time the individual reaches adulthood. Night terrors occur mainly in children and involve deep sleep episodes that produce vivid and terrifying images that are usually forgotten once you wake up with an addition of shortened breath. One of the most unusual sleep disorders is Narcolepsy. Those who suffer from narcolepsy experience sudden daytime sleep attacks, often without prior warning. These narcoleptic attacks often occur when the sufferer is experiencing energetic and exciting moments. These sleep attacks are followed by a sudden loss of muscle control, a condition known as Cataplexy.

The Effects of Hypnosis





An altered state of consciousness occurs when some aspect of normal consciousness is modified by mental, behavioral, or chemical means.

Hypnosis can be used to alter consciousness. Hypnosis is a mental state of relaxation and concentration that is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a series of preliminary instructions and suggestions given by a professional (like the "magicians" who wave clocks on chains in front of people and tell them to fall asleep or to act like a chicken) although there are some people who can create a self-induced hypnosis, known as auto-hypnosis. During hypnosis you are not actually asleep, you are in a relaxed, sleep-like state. For example, when women are giving birth they can use hypnosis for childbirth; a safe and highly effective method of controlling and anticipated delivery, without the use of drugs. When one is in this state, they feel less pain than others. For example, two people place their arms in an ice bucket. One is hypnotized, the other, the control, is not. The control feels pain quicker than the variable. That is why childbirth is less painful when hypnotized. Also with hypnosis you are more likely to take suggestions which is why when someone is hypnotized (lets use the ice bucket example) they are less likely to feel the pain in the coldness of the water even though she was aware of what her arm was going to be in.

Another relaxation technique is Meditation. Meditation, often associated with tranquility, is a mental state of relaxation along discipline by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. It is often linked to religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. It does not require another person to execute like hypnosis does. Meditation also restricts our entire consciousness, no cognition at all. Meditation is linked to positive emotions, stress relief, and mental enlightenment.It also brings new understandings and meaning to one's life.
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Meditation


Thought Suppression is when you try to bury thoughts (don't think about the white bear. Don't do it.), but it leads to the Rebound Effect of Thought which is you turn out thinking about the white bear. Why did you do that?
I'll tell you why! When you try not to think about something, you inevitably do. Like when you're stuck in class and you have to go to the bathroom, and you think to yourself, "Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Why did I drink three Cokes at lunch?". The more you think about it the more you'll have to go, rather than just occupying your mind.

The Cocktail Party Effect- is the ability to focus in on one thing in a loud environment. For example; you are in the hallway and everyone is yelling to each other, yet you hear one group of students talking about boyfriend/girlfriend problems. Whether you're nosy or it was an accident, you were able to hear that above the crowd.

The Influence of Psychoactive Drugs


Dependence

Category

Medical Uses

Psychological

Physical

Opiates

  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Methadone
Painkiller, cough suppressant
Under investigation
Painkiller, cough suppressant
Treatment of heroin addiction
High
High
Moderate
Low
High
High
Moderate
High

Hallucinogens

  • Mescaline
  • Psilocybin
  • LSD
  • PCP
  • Cannabis
None
None
None
Veterinary anesthetic
Reduces nausea from chemotherapy
None
Unknown
None
Unknown
Low
Unknown
Unknown
None
High
Low

Depressants

  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Rohypnol
Sedative, sleep, anticonvulsant, Anesthetic
Antianxiety, sleep, anticonvulsant, sedative
Antiseptic
None in U.S. (elsewhere for sedation, anesthesia, and treatment of insomnia)
Moderate-high
Low-moderate
Moderate
Low-moderate
Moderate-high
Low-moderate
Moderate
Low-moderate

Stimulants

  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA (ecstasy)

  • Cocaine
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
Weight control, counteract anesthesia
ADHD, weight control (rarely)
None (originally developed as an appetite suppressant)

Local anesthetic
Gum, patch for cessation of smoking
Weight control, stimulant in acute respiratory failure, analgesia
High
High
Moderate


High
Low-high
Low
High
High
Moderate


High
Low-high
Low
There are other ways to affect the mental processes and behavior of the brain by use of Psychoactive Drugs. People turn to drugs for many reasons, such as stress relief, pleasure, relaxation, and/or to escape the unpleasant aspects of their lives. These habit-forming drugs are called Psychoactive drugs, and the most popular today include amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine. Although some drugs can affect the mental process, drugs cannot help you tap into your sub-conscious mind. This habit of using Psychoactive Drugs is dangerous because of their effects on mental processing and behaviors of the brain. Psychoactive drugs impair the brain mechanisms that usually aid us in making good decisions. The most widely abused drugs include cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines because of their effects on the brain's "reward circuits," or pleasure from everyday things. This contributes to the abuse of the drugs because they allow the brain to think that using the substance is a good idea, when in reality it is not. Psychoactive drugs can be grouped into several categories: Hallucinogens, Opiates, Depressants, and Stimulants. Large, repeated doses of these strongly addicting drugs can cause what is known as a Tolerance, where a drug no longer delivers as powerful an effect on an individual, at which point many increase the dosage they are taking to get the same effects as before. Physical Dependence occurs when one's body needs the drug to perform normal bodily functions. Another form of addiction is based on Psychological Dependence which occurs when a person believes that they need a drug because of the preferable conscious state that the drugs caused within them, but without becoming physically dependent . When attempting to break Addiction and Physical dependence; many people will experience Withdrawal symptoms that occur when a drug is discontinued. These symptoms are the body's reaction to an altered chemical makeup. They often appear as extreme flu like symptoms with bouts of nausea, body aches, and unexplained pain.




Additional Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness
http://quizlet.com/3290592/psychology-chapter-7-vocab-states-of-consciousness-flash-cards/
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/drugs/mouse.html
http://youtu.be/7GGzc3x9WJU
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/

Quizlet Practice