Chapter 2

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STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Year 12 Psychology Unit 3 – The Conscious Self
Area of Study 1: Mind, Brain and Body
Chapter 2 (pages 96 to 131)
STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Level of awareness of our internal state & external
events. This determines how much of this
information we take in & respond to.
NOT ‘all or nothing’ – our degree of awareness
varies at different times, depending on what’s
happening or what we are doing.
Psychologists often describe consciousness as a
continuum or scale, with no clear boundaries
between the different states.
STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DESCRIBING CONSCIOUSNESS
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Awareness of objects and events in the external
world and in our own internal world and mental
processes
Characteristics:
 Selective – you choose what you are aware of
 Continuous – never ‘empty’
 Changing – new information is coming into
our awareness
CATEGORIES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Many different states, but psychologists
generally agree on two broad categories:
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Normal Waking Consciousness
Attention
 Selective Attention & Divided Attention
 Content Limitations
 Controlled & Automatic Processes
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Altered States of Consciousness
Distortions of Perception & Cognition
 Time Orientation
 Changes in Emotional Awareness
 Changes in Self-Control
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Activity: 2.3
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS
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Definition: Associated with being awake & aware of
internal & external experiences (feelings, thoughts,
sensations, memory etc.).
To fully understand NWC, psychologists often compare
these experiences with those of altered states of
consciousness (see slides further on).
Characteristics:
Perception and thoughts = organised
 Perceptions = real; sense of time and place
 Continually shift between different states (top end of
continuum)
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NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS:
ATTENTION
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Concentration of mental activity that involves
focusing on specific stimuli & ignoring others;
changing focus is like using a torch/flashlight to
select different things to look at.
Way of distinguishing between different states of
consciousness: states at top of continuum require
more attention than those at bottom end.
Attention can be focused internally (thoughts,
feelings, etc.) or externally (sounds, smells, etc.).
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
SELECTIVE ATTENTION
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Choosing to focus on certain stimuli while
ignoring other stimuli (top of continuum).
At any time, the focus (‘flashlight’) of our
attention is only on a small part of what we are
capable of experiencing overall.
Research has shown that if people focus on a
particular stimuli (selective attention) they fail to
notice most of the other information that exists
around them.
CAN YOU CONTROL THE FOCUS
OF YOUR ATTENTION?
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Watch the clip...Awareness Test
Can you use selective attention to follow the
instructions correctly?
OR
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Will you become distracted by other stimuli and
miss out on important information?
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
SELECTIVE ATTENTION RESEARCH
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Ulric Neisser & Robert Becklen (1975) showed
participants two videotapes, one superimposed
over the other:
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2.
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Three people passing a basketball to each other
(participants press button when ball thrown);
Two people playing a hand-clapping game
(participants press button when hands slap).
To minimise extraneous variables, they used an
independent groups design (each participant was
randomly allocated to either the basketball or the
hands group).
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
SELECTIVE ATTENTION RESEARCH
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RESULTS:
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Participants in both groups were able to selectively
attend to the stimulus they were assigned (the hands
or the basketball) and block out other stimuli.
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Their ‘flashlight’ was so successful that out of 24
participants in the basketball group, only one noticed
when the hand-clapping game finished and the two
players shook hands.
Activity: 2.8
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This suggests selective attention may control what
information enters our consciousness and what
information gets left out.
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
SELECTIVE ATTENTION THEORIES
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What determines whether we will focus on a
stimulus or not?
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If it is personally important to us;
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If the stimulus changes or if a new/unusual (‘novel’)
stimulus is introduced;
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Television advertisements use loud noise, colour, etc.
Does selective attention stop all other info?
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Cocktail Party Phenomenon – we hear our name over
everything else, even if we are focused on other stimuli.
Listening to friends in class, but open to correct page.
We process some info outside conscious awareness.
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
DIVIDED ATTENTION
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The ability to distribute our attention & do two or
more things at the same time (simultaneously).
Ability to divide our attention depends on how
much conscious effort is required for each task.
Research shows that we can multitask as long as
the tasks are not complex (minimal mental effort).
Understanding our attention limits has become
important in the debate over whether we should
use mobile phones while we are driving.
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: ATTENTION
DIVIDED ATTENTION RESEARCH
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Duncan (1993) asked participants to look at an
object on a screen & do two things simultaneously:
identify the object AND its location on the screen.
Most participants could do this with few errors.
When participants had to complete the two tasks
simultaneously, for two objects at once, their
errors increased significantly.
Complex tasks require selective attention.
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS:
CONTENT LIMITATIONS
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The type of information held in our consciousness
is more restricted during normal waking because
we can control it: we can ignore things we don’t
like, pay more attention to nice things, etc.
During altered states of consciousness, we
generally don’t have the same control, so the
information we receive is less limited.
Normal waking content is also usually more
organised & logical.
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS:
QUESTION
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What are the two different types of attention that
one can posses? Give an example for both.
What is the definition of consciousness?
What is one other thing you can remember from
what you have covered so far?
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS:
CONTROLLED & AUTOMATIC PROCESSES
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Controlled Processes (use selective attention):
Usually more difficult/complex;
 Require high conscious awareness & mental effort;
 Can usually only perform one at a time;
 E.g. learning something new, like driving a car.
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Over time, controlled may become automatic…
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Activity: 2.7
Automatic Processes (use divided attention):
Usually easier, less complex;
 Require little conscious awareness or mental effort;
 Do not interfere with performance of other activities.
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NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: CONTROLLED & AUTOMATIC
THE STROOP EFFECT
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J. Ridley Stroop (1935) tested his theory of
interference by measuring participants’ errors &
response speed when trying to process conflicting
information (colour versus word).
Used a repeated measures design (each participant
was in both the experimental & control conditions).
Controlled the order effects of practice & fatigue by
making sure that half the participants saw the
experimental, then the control whilst half saw
them in a different order.
STROOP’S EXPERIMENTAL CONDITION
(IN CONTROL CONDITION THE COLOURS MATCHED THE WORDS)
NORMAL WAKING CONSCIOUSNESS: CONTROLLED & AUTOMATIC
THE STROOP EFFECT
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Stroop Effect occurs because our automatic process
interferes with our controlled process:
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Automatic – easy, requires minimal mental effort;
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Reading words (esp. easy ones, like colours).
Controlled – complex, requires lots of mental effort;
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Activity: 2.5
Ignoring the word & saying a different colour.
Psychologist have found that this occurs even with
non-colour words, such as ‘truck’.
Researchers found that when presented with
conflicting stimuli, we cannot stop our controlled
processes from taking over, even if we want to.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Definition: Any state of consciousness that is
distinctly different from NWC in terms of
distortion of changes (level of awareness,
experience, quality or intensity of sensations,
perceptions, thoughts, feelings, memories).
Distinct mental processing changes occur;
cognitive processes or perceptions of self/world may
change & normal inhibitions/self-control may
weaken.
Some occur naturally; some are purposely induced.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Psychological changes that occur in ASC vary
greatly from person to person.
BUT
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There are some common characteristics:
Perceptual & Cognitive Distortions;
 Disturbed Sense of Time;
 Changes in Emotional Awareness;
 Changes in Self-Control.
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ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DISTORTIONS OF PERCEPTION & COGNITION
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Makes senses more receptive to external stimuli:
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e.g. some drugs may make colours appear brighter,
sounds louder, smells stronger, touch more sensitive –
some people may even hallucinate and experience
perceptions of stimuli that are not really there.
OR
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Dulls senses to the point that some sensations are
not experienced at all:
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e.g. in meditation the individual may be able to focus
their concentration so that their normal pain
threshold is increased, or they may feel no pain at all.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DISTORTIONS OF PERCEPTION & COGNITION
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Perceptions are often so distorted that people may
lose their sense of identity:
They may feel that they are someone else;
 They may feel like they are ‘outside themselves’
looking in.
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ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DISTORTIONS OF PERCEPTION & COGNITION
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Thought processes are often more disorganised,
both in waking ASC and dreaming during sleep:
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Thinking is often illogical and lacking in sequence which
may lead to difficulties in problem-solving.
People often have trouble remembering events that
occur during an ASC:
Unable to recall in detail the events that occurred while
intoxicated;
 Short-term memory impairment & subtle changes in
thinking as a result of marijuana use;
 Difficulty recalling information from long-term memory
in some cases, but this is usually restored in NWC.
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ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
TIME ORIENTATION
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Estimation of time is frequently distorted: it may
appear to be quicker or to pass very slowly.
e.g. waking up from what feels like a long nap and
being surprised to discover that you have only been
asleep for a relatively short time.
OR
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e.g. waking up after getting 8 hours of sleep and
feeling like you have only just shut your eyes.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
CHANGES IN EMOTIONAL AWARENESS
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ASCs may impact on emotions in a variety of ways:
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Put an individual’s feelings into a state of turmoil which
leads to uncharacteristic responses;
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Make an individual feel emotionless;
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e.g. no reaction to stimuli that normally makes them emotional.
Lead to inappropriate emotions;
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e.g. Drunken “I love you soooooo much”.
e.g. laughing at tragic news or crying when told a joke.
Lead to unpredictable emotional responses;
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e.g. may burst into tears or become aggressive for no reason.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
CHANGES IN SELF-CONTROL
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ASCs may lead to an individual losing self-control:
Drunken lack of coordination & intense emotions;
 Being more open to suggestion when hypnotised.
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ASCs may also sometimes help individuals to gain
more self-control:
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Hypnosis to help quit smoking or other addictions, or to
manage chronic pain.
Activity: 2.11
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DAYDREAMING
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ASC in which we shift our attention from external
stimuli to internal thoughts, feelings and imagined
scenarios:
More likely to occur when stationary, perhaps because
active behaviour and directed attention are ‘turned off’;
 May be our consciousness responding to an unchanging
external world by turning inward.
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Usually quite different to night dreams:
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Daydreams = minimal eye movement, high levels of
alpha brain waves;
Content often less organised and meaningful than night
dreams.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
DAYDREAMING – ITS PURPOSE
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Freud: we use daydreams to act out in our fantasies
things that we are unable to do in reality.
Wish fulfillment: reduces frustration and tension.
 Empirical research provides some support for this view.
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Singer: daydreams enable us to mentally try a
range of options for various situations.
Schachter: daydreaming helps us to solve problems.
Researchers found that students spend about half
their NWC time in daydreams!
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
ALCOHOL-INDUCED STATE
Psychoactive drug: chemical that changes conscious
awareness, perception or moods.
 Depressant: causes initial euphoria but only by
depressing activity of brain centres responsible for
inhibitions, judgement & self-control.
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Effect on consciousness depends on concentration of
alcohol, amount, individual variables and conditions
under which it is consumed.
Excessive consumption severely impacts on brain
functioning and may even cause death.
ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
ALCOHOL-INDUCED STATE -
Activity: 2.12
EXPERIENCES
Shortened attention span;
 Impaired perceptions;
Read pages
119 and 120
 Impaired thinking;
 Impaired memory;
 Slower reaction times;
 Reduced self-awareness;
 Impaired emotional awareness and control;
 Impaired perception of time;
 Less self-control;
 Difficulties with voluntary muscular control and
fine movements;
 Deterioration in performance of complex tasks.
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QUALITIES SEPARATING NWC VS. ASC
NWC
LEVEL OF ATTENTION
AWARENESS
CONTENT LIMITATIONS
CONTROLLED & AUTOMATIC
PROCESSES
PERCEPTION & COGNITION
TIME ORIENTATION
EMOTIONAL AWARENESS &
SELF CONTROL
ASC
MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL
RESPONSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Consciousness can be difficult to study because
it is a hypothetical construct: something that is
believed to exist, but cannot be directly
observed or measured.
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‘Psychological construct’: constructed to describe
specific psychological activity or patterns.
We can only infer (assume) what someone’s
state of consciousness is, based on their
behaviour or physiological measurements.
MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL
RESPONSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
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Observations of behaviour are subjective (based on
the researcher’s interpretation) and can be biased,
so measurements of physiological responses are
more reliable.
BUT
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Physiological responses occur for many reasons,
not just because of changes in consciousness, so to
look at them in isolation would be misleading –
need to use a combination of measurements,
observations and self-reports from the individuals.
MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY OF THE BRAIN
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Brain wave patterns can vary in frequency (number
of waves per second): this is judged by the number
of waves in a cycle of activity (measured by EEG).
High frequency = faster (more waves per second);
 Low frequency = slower (less waves per second).
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Brain wave patterns can vary in amplitude
(intensity): this is judged by the size of peaks and
troughs compared to a baseline of zero activity.
High amplitude = bigger peaks and troughs;
 Low amplitude = smaller peaks and troughs.
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MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY OF THE BRAIN
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Beta Waves – NWC, alert, active, concentrating;
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Alpha Waves – NWC, relaxed, wakeful, meditative;
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High frequency & low amplitude (but bigger than Beta).
Theta Waves – ASC, early stages of sleep;
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High frequency (fast) & low amplitude (small).
Medium frequency & both high and low amplitude.
Delta Waves – ASC, deepest stages of sleep;
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Slow frequency & high amplitude (large).
HINT: BOYS ALWAYS THINK DIRTY
Activity: 2.14
MEASURING PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
HEART RATE, BODY TEMPERATURE & GSR
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Heart rate:
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May increase (e.g. substance use) or decrease (e.g.
sleep).
Body Temperature:
Less variable than heart rate but there are patterns;
 Most predictable ASC-related body temperature change
is during sleep, when it drops by more than 1°C.
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Galvanic Skin Response (GSR):
Measures changes in electrical conductivity of skin;
 More sweat = more electrical conductivity = higher
emotional arousal.
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SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED
ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS…
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There are two main types of consciousness:
Normal Waking Consciousness (NWC);
 Altered States of Consciousness (ASC).
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There are no clear boundaries between the
different stages of consciousness on the continuum.
 Selective attention can be very focused, to the
point that it excludes other information.
 Our ability to multitask is affected by the
complexity of the task.
Activity: 2.15
 ASCs can be identified by examining both
psychological & physiological responses.
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