Consciousness and Its Variables
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Consciousness and Its Variables
Consciousness can be experienced in various states. This chapter considers several alternatives to normal waking consciousness, beginning with our capacity for selective attention.
Our daily schedule of waking and sleeping is governed by a biological clock known as circadian rhythm. Our sleep also follows a repeating cycle. Awakening people during REM sleep yields predictable "dreamlike" reports which are mostly of ordinary events. Freud's view that dreams can be traced back to erotic wishes is giving way to newer theories, for example, that dreams help us process information and fix it in memory or that dreams erupt from neural activity.
Like dreams at night, daydreaming can be adaptive; it can help prepare us for future events and may substitute for impulsive behavior. Meditation can help relieve pain, anxiety, and stress-related symptoms.
Studies of hypnosis indicate that, although hypnotic procedures may facilitate recall, the hypnotist's beliefs frequently work their way into subjects' recollections. For some problems, such as headaches and asthma, hypnosis can be therapeutic; it also has the potential of bringing significant pain relief. Debate continues, however, on whether hypnosis is a by-product of normal social and cognitive processes or whether it is an altered state of consciousness.
Psychoactive drugs also alter consciousness. Depressants act by depressing neural functioning. Although their effects are pleasurable, they impair memory and self-awareness and may have other physical consequences. The effects of stimulants, cocaine, in particular, depend on dosage and the user's personality and expectations and on the situation. Hallucinogens can distort judgment of time and can alter sensations and perceptions. Similar hallucinations are reported in near-death experiences, perhaps as a result of oxygen deprivation in the brain. Whether a person will use drugs depends on hereditary, psychological, and social factors.
general instructional objectives
1. To discuss the nature of consciousness and the history of its study by psychologists.
2. To discuss the nature of the sleep cycle and to describe the nature and functions of dreams.
3. To identify the functions of daydreams and the possible value of meditation.
4. To discuss the nature of hypnosis.
5. To identify the effects of various drugs.
1. Discuss the nature of consciousness and its significance in the history of psychology.
Psychology began as the study of consciousness. But the difficulty of scientifically studying consciousness led many psychologists to turn to direct observations of behavior and by mid-century, psychology was defined as the science of behavior. By 1960, mental concepts began to reenter psychology and today investigating states of mind is again one of psychology's pursuits.
For most psychologists today, consciousness is our awareness of ourselves and our environment. Selective attention means that at any moment awareness focuses on only a limited aspect of all that we are capable of experiencing. The cocktail party effect is an example of selective attention. Unlike the parallel processing of subconscious information, conscious processing takes place in sequence, is relatively slow, and has limited capacity.
Film/Videos: Discovering Psychology: The Mind Awake and Asleep; Discovering Psychology: The Mind Hidden and Divided; An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Sleep and Dreams
2. Describe the cyclical nature and possible functions of sleep.
Jet Lag & The Circadian Rhythm
Our daily schedule of waking and sleeping is governed by a biological clock known as circadian rhythm. Each night's sleep also has a rhythm of its own, running from transitional Stage 1 sleep to deep Stage 4 sleep and back up to the internally active REM sleep stage. Stage 1 sleep is characterized by the relatively slow alpha waves and by fantastic images. Stage 2 sleep is characterized by the periodic appearance of sleep spindles. Starting in Stage 3 and increasingly in Stage 4, the brain emits large, slow delta waves. The sleep cycle repeats every 90 minutes during a normal night's sleep, with periods of Stage 4 sleep progressively shortening and of REM sleep lengthening.
Lecture: Long Sleepers vs Short Sleepers?
PsychSim: EEG and Sleep Stages
Films/Videos: Sleep and Its Disorders; Modules 15, 16, and 17 of The Brain series; What Time Is Your Body?; To Sleep . . . Perchance to Dream
Depriving people of sleep has failed to reveal why, physiologically, we need sleep. Research reveals that sleep is linked with the release of pituitary growth hormone and that it may help to restore body tissues and to consolidate memories.
Video: Sleep Alert
3. Identify the major sleep disorders.
National Sleep Foundation
Some 10 to 15 percent of adults complain of insomnia in falling or staying
asleep. Rarer but more severe than insomnia are the sleep disorders narcolepsy
and sleep apnea. People with narcolepsy suffer periodic, overwhelming sleepiness,
sometimes at the most inopportune times. The person collapses directly
into a brief period of REM sleep. Those who suffer sleep apnea (mostly
overweight men) intermittently stop breathing during sleep. After an airless
minute or so, decreased blood oxygen arouses the sleeper to awaken and
snort in air for a few seconds. Still other sleepers, mostly children,
experience night terrors.
DO YOU HAVE A SLEEP DISORDER? RATE HOW SLEEPY YOU ARE. TIPS ON GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE all available at the Sleep Disorders Center of Central Texas Website
4. Discuss the content and possible functions of dreams.
Our dreams are mostly of ordinary events; they often relate to everyday experiences and more frequently involve failure or misfortune than triumphant achievement.
Freud believed that a dream's manifest content is a censored, symbolic version of its latent content, which consists of unconscious drives and wishes that would be threatening if expressed directly.
Newer explanations of why we dream suggest that dreams (a) help process information and fix it in memory, (b) serve a physiological function, and/or (c) are the brain's efforts to string periodic hallucinations (from activity bursts in the visual cortex) into a story line. Despite their differences, most theorists agree that REM sleep and its associated dreams serve an important function, as shown by the REM rebound that occurs following REM deprivation.
Projects: Remembering Night
Dreams; Catching the Hypnagogic State; Dreaming and Problem Solving
Video: Dreams: Theater of the Night
Daydreams and Meditation
5. Discuss the content and potential functions of daydreams and describe the possible value of meditation.
Most daydreams involve the familiar details of our lives, perhaps imagining an alternative approach to a task we are performing or picturing ourselves explaining to an instructor why a paper will be late. Daydreaming can be adaptive; it can help us prepare for future events and may substitute for impulsive behavior. It is also important to children's social and cognitive development.
Remembering Daydreams; A Penny for Your Thoughts
A more focused, yet fully conscious state of awareness comes through meditation. Meditators assume a comfortable position, adopt a receptive, serene attitude, and then focus on their breathing, on a word, or on a phrase. Meditation, like deep relaxation, an help relieve pain, anxiety, and stress-related symptoms.
6. Discuss hypnosis, noting the behavior of hypnotized people and claims regarding its uses.
Hypnosis is an apparently heightened suggestibility in which some people narrow their focus of attention and claim to experience imaginary happenings as if they were real. Afterwards, subjects may experience posthypnotic amnesia. Furthermore, subjects have reported that under hypnosis they have relived experiences from their childhood (age regression). Although hypnotic procedures may help someone to recall something, the hypnotist's beliefs frequently work their way into the subject's recollections. Research indicates that hypnotized people cannot be made to act against their will any more than nonhypnotized people can, that hypnosis can (through posthypnotic suggestion) alleviate such problems as headaches, asthma, and warts; and that hypnotizable people can enjoy pain relief. One theory of hypnotic pain relief involves dissociation.
7. Discuss the controversy over whether hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness.
Some argue that hypnosis is a by-product of normal social and cognitive processes and thus not a unique state of consciousness. These skeptics note that behaviors produced through hypnotic procedures can also be produced without them. "Hypnotized" people may be acting the role of "good hypnotic subjects" and allowing the hypnotist to direct their fantasies.
Others disagree and note that hypnotized subjects sometimes carry out
suggested behaviors on cue, even when they believe no one is watching them.
Furthermore, they argue that certain phenomena are unique to hypnosis,
for example, the reduction of pain. The divided-consciousness theory of
hypnosis argues that hypnotic dissociation is a more extreme form of everyday
Drugs and Consciousness
8. Describe the physiological and psychological effects of specific drugs and discuss the factors that contribute to their use.
Psychoactive drugs are chemicals that change perceptions and moods. Continued use of a psychoactive drug produces tolerance, and cessation of use may produce the undesirable side effects of withdrawal. The pain of withdrawal and intense craving for a dose indicates a physical dependence. People can also develop psychological dependence, particularly for drugs used to relieve stress.
Depressants, such as alcohol, the barbiturates, and the opiates, act by slowing brain activity. Each offers its own pleasures, but at the cost of impaired memory and self-awareness or other physical consequences.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, the powerful amphetamines, and the even more powerful cocaine, act by stimulating body functioning. As with nearly all psychoactive drugs, they act by influencing the brain's neurotransmitters, and their effects depend on dosage, on the user's personality and expectations, and on the situation.
Hallucinogens, such as LSD and marijuana (with THC), can distort the perceptions and evoke hallucinations. Similar hallucinations are reported in near-death experiences, perhaps as a result of oxygen deprivation in the brain. These experiences are marked by out-of-body sensations, visions of tunnels, and bright lights.
Psychological factors (such as stress, depression, and hopelessness) and social factors (such as peer pressure) combine to lead many people to experiment with, and become dependent on drugs. Some people also appear to have a greater biological susceptibility to dependence on drugs.
Film/Videos: The Addicted Brain; Modules 22 and 23 of The Mind series; Cocaine: The End of the Line