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States of Consciousness

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States of Consciousness

You suddenly have amazing superhuman strength! You can lift cars and even fly! You are a hero and the crowd is cheering for you!

Then you realize you are deep in a daydream in the middle of your geography class. Daydreaming is actually an altered state of consciousness, but it is not the only one.

  • What are states of consciousness?
  • What are the different levels of consciousness?
  • What are altered states of consciousness?
  • What are some examples of states of consciousness in psychology?

Meaning of the States of Consciousness

What does it mean to be conscious? Generally, consciousness means you are aware of yourself and your environment. Being conscious enables you to analyze, compare, and interpret experiences. When you are conscious, you combine what you know, what you perceive, and what you anticipate into one whole.

Our minds are like two-way highways, with information constantly driving into and out of our minds. Conscious awareness is the road itself. It is how we send out and receive information about ourselves and the world. Consciousness requires mental energy, and we sleep to recharge the energy we need to maintain consciousness.

Imagine you just traveled on a jet across several time zones. You have been awake for over 24 hours, and you have never felt this tired before. At that moment, are you just as conscious as you were before beginning your trip? Can you take in and send out information in the same way you could before boarding that plane?

Tiredness or mental fatigue impacts our state of consciousness. There are two daytime states of consciousness we should mention: daydreaming and attention.

Daydreaming

Daydreaming is a change in consciousness that happens without any effort as a temporary escape from reality or day-to-day responsibilities.

It is up to our reticular formation to keep us alert and focused on our tasks. This portion of the brain is also known as the pons. It bridges our cerebellum and our medulla, as well as our cerebral hemispheres.

If your reticular formation is not up to the challenge of keeping you alert (like when you are really tired or jet-lagged), you will find yourself drifting away in thought. This can happen as you are sitting in class or riding in a car. Images and off-topic thoughts form an inner reality or state of consciousness that fills your mind. Sometimes we daydream when we lack stimulation or are really bored.

Attention

What about when you are focused and engaged? This is the state of consciousness called attention. It requires mental energy! We can intentionally focus our attention on something, or something might catch our attention without any direction from us. Probably the most important aspect of attentive consciousness is that we can only pay attention to one thing at a time. We often try to split our focused attention onto more than one thing at a time (multitasking), but the result is actually just us moving our attention very quickly from one thing to another.

The Different Levels of Consciousness

Have you ever fainted or seen someone faint? When we faint, we experience unconsciousness. Did you know that there are actually other levels of consciousness, besides just conscious or unconscious? There are actually four levels of consciousness: Waking conscious, preconscious, unconscious, and nonconscious.

  1. Waking conscious: alert, awake, and sometimes attentive.

  2. Preconscious: thoughts and feelings floating on the surface of your consciousness that you can easily retrieve or recall.

  3. Unconscious: also called the subconscious, the part of your mind that is outside of your conscious awareness.

  4. Nonconscious: mental processes involved in automatic processes like breathing, blood flow, and hormone secretion. Also involved in simple sensation processing like judging size or distance and recognizing patterns.

At this point, you might be confused about the difference between unconscious and unconsciousness. Is there a difference? Yes!

The unconscious is a part of your mind that is usually outside your conscious awareness. It operates while you are conscious throughout the day. Unconsciousness is a state of losing all consciousness of yourself and your environment, like when you faint.

The unconscious is a level of consciousness, and unconsciousness is a state of consciousness.

Altered States of Consciousness

What are the different types that are considered altered states?

Hypnosis

In many films and TV shows, the main character ends up the victim of a state of hypnosis. They may act foolishly for laughs, do devious acts thanks to the hypnotic powers of a villain, or exhibit mysterious actions without warning. All of this is just for entertainment purposes and not real hypnosis. Despite the mystery surrounding it, hypnosis can be a useful tool in psychological and therapeutic settings for those seeking help with their anxieties and stresses. What is hypnosis as a state of consciousness?

Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness achieved through deep relaxation and extremely high suggestibility. Under hypnosis, people perceive reality differently. Those changes can then change that person's behavior. What does a hypnotized person experience? Some reports say a hypnotized person feels like they are sinking or floating without any movement or sensation. There are also reports of hallucinations involving smell, taste, or sight.

Researchers believe there is a division of consciousness when someone is hypnotized. One part of the person's consciousness splits from the rest. This division of consciousness is two or more streams of consciousness split up from each other. These different streams of consciousness allow the hypnotized person to be able to listen and receive instruction from the professional.

Dissociation

Ernest Hilgard developed a new theory of dissociation. Hilgard conducted experimental trials where he used hypnosis on a willing person. While the participant was under hypnosis, Hilgard would submerge the person's arm in ice-cold water. He told the person to press a button if they felt any pain. Despite no outward signs of pain, the participants pressed the button. Hilgard realized that there was a split in consciousness, allowing behaviors and thoughts to occur simultaneously.

Hallucinations and Hallucinogens

Distorted perceptions and sensory images that seem to come from nowhere are the work of hallucinogenic drugs. Drugs like marijuana and LSD are considered hallucinogenic drugs, and their effects are other-worldly at times. LSD is reported to open up passages to a "higher understanding" or another consciousness. Most often, LSD puts you in a dream-like state of consciousness where you feel separated from your body. Some who experiment with LSD say that it puts them at a higher level of awareness.

Examples of the States of Consciousness in Psychology

In the 1800s, Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchner wanted to understand consciousness related to the structure of the mind. Wilhelm Wundt dedicated much of his research to the scientific study of the immediate conscious experiences of sensation. As structuralists, Wundt and Titchener focused on the structure of the mind and identifying the basic elements of consciousness (sensations, feelings, and images) through the use of trained introspection.

What do psychologists study about consciousness? Well, there are several different things. One of them is sleep and the levels of consciousness we go through during sleep. Another is dreams. Is our state of consciousness different during our dreams from when we are just sleeping? One other topic psychologists are interested in is meditation, another altered form of consciousness.

Sleep and Consciousness

Sleep is an important function for humans. It takes up a large chunk of time within our existence. There are five levels of consciousness during sleep: semi-wakeful or hypnagogic state, non-rem 1, non-rem 2, non-rem 3, and REM.

Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep) is a semi-conscious sleep state. This stage of the sleep cycle is a vital part of sleep. Our muscles relax as if we are completely asleep, but our body's systems are active and running. REM sleep is also called paradoxical sleep.

What other aspects of sleep show variances in consciousness? Would you believe that you can hallucinate in your sleep? Many of those who claim to be abducted by aliens often describe how the incident happened as they were going to sleep. Did they experience these occurrences, or were they hallucinations?

Dreams and Consciousness

Why do we dream that our teeth fall out? Why do we dream that we are lost? Do our dreams have deeper meanings? Psychologists are interested in answering these questions! There are many theories about why we dream. One common theory is that dreaming is a means of processing and filing away our memories. Research shows that the same areas of our brain that process new information are active as we venture into REM sleep. Most of our dreaming happens during REM sleep as well!

Creating new neural pathways is another theory about why we dream. Children need much more sleep than adults, and they tend to dream more often as well. Children take in so much new information every day, dreaming could be one way that all of this information is processed and stored away.

Meditation as an Altered State of Consciousness

Meditation is an altered state of consciousness? Yes! There are strong scientific findings supporting this.

Meditation is a state of inner peace and calmness accessed through specific conscious-altering techniques that are often religious in nature.

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) of those who meditate show a pattern of alpha waves (wave patterns in our brain that are natural) that have the same characteristics of relaxed wakefulness. There are unconscious changes in our physiological patterns as well! While in a deep meditative state, your heart rate slows down, your breathing rate slows down, and your blood pressure lowers. These are activations of the parasympathetic nervous system, or our relaxation system.

States of Consciousness - Key takeaways

  • Generally, consciousness means you are aware of yourself and your environment.
  • One of the most important aspects of attentive consciousness is that we can only pay attention to one thing at a time.
  • There are four levels of consciousness: Waking conscious, preconscious, unconscious, and nonconscious.
  • Hypnosis, dissociation, hallucinations, and meditation are altered states of consciousness.
  • We pass through several different levels of consciousness during sleep, including REM sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions about States of Consciousness

An altered state of consciousness means a change in one's normal state of cognitive consciousness.

Altered states of consciousness are sleep, the effects of some drugs, and dissociation.

Yes, meditation is an altered state of consciousness as it alters our cognitive processes and focuses. 

Some of the various states of consciousness are REM sleep, dreams, hallucinations, and the effects of some drugs. 

You can achieve altered states of consciousness by going to sleep, meditating, and being hypnotized.

Final States of Consciousness Quiz

Question

________ are often called "uppers" as they speeds up functions in the body.

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Answer

Stimulants

Show question

Question

Stimulants include Methamphetamine (Meth), _______, _______, cocaine, and MDMA.

Show answer

Answer

caffeine, nicotine,

Show question

Question

Meth can reduce the production of _______. 


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Answer

dopamine.

Show question

Question

Nicotine takes effect only ___ after being smoked.

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Answer

 7 seconds

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Question

______ is also known as Ecstacy and happens to be a mild hallucinogen.


Show answer

Answer

MDMA

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Question

________ psychoactive drugs create a slowing down in the body versus stimulants.


Show answer

Answer

Depressant

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Question

______ leads to slower processing speeds in thought and speech. It also disrupts memory and can deeply impair judgment.


A. Cocaine

B.Caffeine

C. Alcohol

Show answer

Answer

C. Alcohol

Show question

Question

_________ can create sensations without the help of any sensory input creating hallucinations for the user.

Show answer

Answer

Hallucinogens

Show question

Question

There is a numbing or pain-killing effect with this particular class of drug.

Show answer

Answer

Opiates

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Question

Those who are under the influence of _____ find themselves seeing geometric patterns as well as shapes, and past emotional experiences. Many people claim that they felt a sense of separation from their mind and body.

Show answer

Answer

LSD

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Question

Psychoactive drugs often affect ______ of the brain either in benefit or in harm.

Show answer

Answer

neurotransmitters

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Question

A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including _____, _____, ____.

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Answer

emotions, thinking, and perception.

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Question

______ will stimulate the release of dopamine.

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Answer

Meth

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drug can be as addictive as cocaine and heroin but is easily accessed?

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Answer

Nicotine 

Show question

Question

What are three different categories of psychoactive drugs?

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Answer

Stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.

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Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be stimulants?

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Answer

Caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine

Show question

Question

Which of these is a stimulant?

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Answer

Caffeine 

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be hallucinogens?


Show answer

Answer

LSD and MDMA

Show question

Question

Alcohol is considered a hallucinogen. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of these psychotropic drugs are considered depressants?

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Answer

Barbiturates

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Question

What psychoactive drugs are considered to be depressants?

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Answer

Alcohol and Barbiturates

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Question

With ______, people experience immense dehydration. This can lead to overheating and death.

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Answer

MDMA

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Question

________ can slow down mental and neural processes in the body.


Show answer

Answer

Depressants

Show question

Question

_______ drugs warp perceptions and conjure up sensory images without the help of sensory input.


Show answer

Answer

Hallucinogenic

Show question

Question

Those who are under the influence of _______ see geometric patterns, shapes, and past emotional experiences.


Show answer

Answer

LSD

Show question

Question

Medications for depression are considered psychoactive. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

True. These medications alter brain functions as well.

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drug can create a pattern of shrinkage in the brain?


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Answer

Alcohol

Show question

Question

Which drugs are created from opium?

Show answer

Answer

Opiates

Show question

Question

A ______ excites neural activity and speeds up functions of the body.


Show answer

Answer

 stimulant

Show question

Question

Because nicotine is easily obtained, there is no long-term harm in chronic usage. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

False: Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. A single cigarette can take minutes off your average life span.

Show question

Question

What two types of hallucinations occur when dreaming?

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Answer

Visual and auditory

Show question

Question

What does the acronym "REM" sleep stand for?

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Rapid Eye Movement

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In what stage of sleep does our body create memories?

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Answer

REM Sleep

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Question

What theorist stated that dreams were a part of our subconscious desires?

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Answer

Sigmund Freud

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Which theorist states that dreams were a combination of our conscious and unconscious, thus creating a balance in our minds?

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Answer

Carl Jung

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What are the five most common types of dreams?

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Nightmares, lucid dreams, recurring dreams, normal dreams, and daydreaming.

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What is the most vivid form of dreaming?

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Lucid dreams

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Which type of dreaming can actually occur when we are awake?

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Daydreaming

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How long does one dream typically last?

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A few seconds 

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Dreaming can create false memories. True or false?

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True

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Is dreaming just relevant to humans?

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Answer

Animals dream as well.

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Dreams can be in color and _______.

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Black and white

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What are a few common types of themes in dreams?

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Running, falling, death, facing fears, and seeing a deceased loved one.

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What are the biggest benefits of dream analysis?

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Answer

Understanding stressors, patterns, and unresolved issues in our lives.

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Question

What are three popular dream theories?

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Answer

Sigmund Freud's Theory, Carl Jung's Theory, and Modern-Day Theory

Show question

Question

What is a typical sleep wake-cycle? 

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Answer

24 hours. 16 hours awake, 8 hours asleep. 

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Question

What part of the brain is important to our circadian rhythm?

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Answer

The suprachiasmatic nucleus. 

Show question

Question

How many stages of non-REM sleep are there?

Show answer

Answer

Three: N1, N2, and N3. 

Show question

Question

Cortisol is ____ in the morning. 

Show answer

Answer

high

Show question

Question

Cortisol is ______ at night.

Show answer

Answer

low 

Show question

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