Psychology - Chapter 1: Consciousness
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What is states of consciousness?
States of consciousness is our level of awareness of our internal state and external events that determines how much information we take in and respond to. We refer to the different states of consciousness as a continum of states of consciousness.
Explain the difference between the terms Consciousness and States of Consciousness.
Consciousness is our awareness of objects and events that are going on, in both our internal state and external events, and states of Consciousness is the level of awareness we are experiencing of our internal and external events, which determines the amount of information we take in and respond to.
Why is States of Consciousness best described as being a continuum?
States of Consciousness is best described as being a continuum because in the course of a typical day we experience many different states of consciousness and therefore many levels of awareness. At times, we are highly focused and very aware and at other times we may experience a medium level of awareness. There are other times, such as when we are asleep, where our level of awareness is low and our ability to take in and understand information is reduced. Because our states of consciousness is constantly changing, with different levels of awareness being experienced, is why psychologists' best describe it being a continuum of states of consciousness.
Define the term Normal Waking Consciousness.
NWC refers to the states of consciousness associated with being awake and aware of our thoughts, memories, feelings and the sensations we are experiencing from the outside world. It generally includes all states of consciousness in the upper half of the continuum that involve heightened awareness.
Define levels of awareness in relation to normal waking consciousness.
NWC is not single state, as there are varying levels of awareness when we are awake. We continually shift between different states, and therefore levels of awareness, within NWC.
Define the term attention as it applies to normal waking consciousness.
Attention is a concentration of mental activity that involves focusing on specific stimuli while ignoring other stimuli. Researchers often use attention as a measure of awareness and as a way of distinguishing between different states of consciousness.
What is meant by the terms selective attention (cocktail part effect) and divided attention? Give examples of each.
- Selective attention involves selectively attending to certain stimuli while ignoring other stimuli. For example, whether that is an internal event such as a pain in your foot, or an external event such as watching a car drive past.
- If a stimulus is personally important to us, we are more likely to take notice of it. For example, suppose that you are at a party with loud music playing and you are surrounded by many conversations. Despite being totally involved in one conversation, your attention is likely to be automatically drawn to a different conversation if you hear your name being mentioned. This commonly occurring experience is known as the cocktail part effect.
- Divided attention refers to the ability to distribute our attention and undertake two or more activities simultaneously. For example, using a mobile phone while driving requires divided attention to simultaneously perform two tasks at once.
How does the content of Normal Waking Consciousness differ from the content of the mind during an Altered State of Consciousness? How has this difference been explained?
During NWC the content - that is, the type of information we take in, is more organized and restricted compared to an ASC. During NWC we are able to exert some control over what enters our conscious awareness and therefore block embarrassing or painful memories into entering our consciousness, but during an ASC we generally don't have that same control, which leads to content being disorganized and therefore less restricted as we can't control what enters our mind.
Explain the difference between controlled processes and automatic processes.
- Controlled processes is the processing of information involving tasks that are difficult or unfamiliar to perform and often require an alert awareness and mental effort in which the individual highly focuses their attention on achieving a particular goal activity. Controlled processes tend to be serial; that is, only one activity can usually be performed at a time. For example, driving a car for the very first time.
- Automatic processes however, require low levels of concentration and therefore little conscious awareness and mental effort to perform and does not interfere with the performance of other activities. Automatic processes are used when an activity is easy or familiar. For example, as I gained experience driving, it became a more automatic process as it didn't require the same level of attention. Unlike controlled processing, automatic processing tends to be parallel; that is, we can perform two or more activities at the same time. For example, as I became a more confident driver, I can now drive a car while talking to the passengers.
What is the Stroop effect? What does it tell us about controlled and automatic processing? Which takes precedence?
The Stroop effect is the observation that it takes longer to name the colour of the ink in which a word is printed if the word spells the name of a different colour than it does to identify a block of colour. Psychologists believe that the Stroop effect occurs because when we are presented with a word; our automatic response is to read the word. This tells us that when we are simultaneously presented with more than one cognitive task, we cannot prevent automatic processing (which takes precedence) from dominating controlled processing, even if we try.
Define the term Altered State of Consciousness.
ASC is used to describe any state of consciousness that is distinctly different from NWC, in terms of level of awareness and experience, and the quality or intensity of sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings and memories that are experienced. In an ASC, cognitive processes or perceptions of yourself or the world may change, and normal inhibitions or self-control may weaken.
List the main ways in which and Altered State of Consciousness is different to a Normal State of Consciousness.
During an ASC our levels of awareness is weakened, compare to NWC where we are alert and aware of our thoughts, memories, feelings and sensations that we are experiencing from the outside world. During an ASC an individual may experience perceptual and cognitive distortions, a disturbed sense of time and changes in emotional awareness and self-control.
Differentiate between naturally occurring ASC's and induced ASC's.
Naturally occurring ASC's are a normal part of our lives and occur naturally, such as sleep, daydreaming and dreaming. However, other ASC's are purposely induced, such as meditation, hypnosis, alcohol ingestion or by taking certain medications or illegal drugs. There are many reasons why an individual may try to deliberately achieve an ASC, as it can help some people relax and cope with stress or reduce pain, for psychological pressure as an escape from the pressure of their life.
What are the common characteristics of ASC's?
- Perceptual and cognitive distortions
- a disturbed sense of time
- changes in emotional awareness and self-control
Outline the differing effects of an ASC on perception.
During an ASC an individual becomes more receptive to external stimuli, or dulls them to such an extent that some sensations are not experienced at all. For example, some drug-induced ASC's make perception of sensory experiences more expressive, so that colours seem brighter, tastes and smells stronger, sounds louder and touch more sensitive. In some instances, some people may even hallucinate, experiencing perceptions of stimuli or events that are not really occurring. Perceptions during an ASC are often so distorted that people may even lose their sense of identity (who they are).
How does an ASC affect cognitive functioning and sense of time?
- During an ASC, cognitive functioning also becomes impaired as thought processes are often more disorganised during a waking ASC, as well as during the ASC of dreaming during sleep. Thinking is often illogical and lacking in sequence, and difficulties may be experienced in problem-solving. In addition, people often have trouble remembering events that occur during an ASC.
- Also, our sense of time is frequently distorted in an ASC, as time seems to pass at different speed than normal (either faster or slower).
Describe the changes that may occur in emotional awareness and self-control under an ASC.
- A change in our emotion awareness is also associated with many ASC's. ASC's appear to sometimes put an individual's feelings into a state of distress, resulting in uncharacteristic responses. For example, in an alcohol-induced ASC, some people become more emotional and may express their emotions more openly than in NWC. In other ASC's people have reported feeling emotionless; that is, having no feelings at all for events or situations that in NWC would produce a high emotional reaction in them. ASC's have also been associated with inappropriate emotional reactions, such as laughing at being told of a friend's death or crying when told a joke.
- Changes in our ability to maintain self-control are often evident during an ASC, either emotionally or physically. For example, in an alcohol-induced ASC, individuals often have difficulty coordinating and controlling movements, sometimes being unable to walk in a straight line. As described previously, they may also have difficulty maintaining control of their emotions; for example, being aggressive to someone for no apparent reason.
Daydreaming is an ASC in which we shift our attention from external stimuli to internal thoughts, feeling and imagined scenarios. The shift in consciousness to a state of daydreaming occurs naturally, and often without us being aware that it has happened. For example, you could be involved in a conversation with friends and suddenly become aware that their conversation is occurring in the background and you are thinking what to buy your family for Christmas.
What is a possible explanation of why daydreaming occurs more often when alone or doing boring activities?
Daydreaming occurs more often when we are alone or doing boring activities, perhaps because it is at these times that our active behaviour and directed attention are 'turned off' and our consciousness tends to drift off in an attempt to create more interesting thoughts and images.
List three possible functions or purposes of daydreaming.
- To allow us to do things in our fantasies what we are unable to do in reality.
- To reduce frustration and tension we would otherwise have experienced as a result of unfulfilled wishes and needs.
- To seek revenge against those who have wronged us.
Explain the meaning of Alcohol-induced states of consciousness.
An Alcohol-induced state, is an ASC and is considered to be a psychoactive drug. Psychoactive drugs are chemicals that change conscious awareness, perceptions or moods. Alcohol is also a depressant, meaning that alcohol lessens inhibitions by depressing the activity of brain centres responsible for judgement and self-control. The specific effects of alcohol on consciousness depend on a wide range of variables. These include the concentration of alcohol consumed, the conditions under which the alcohol is consumed and variables related to the individual, such as the rate of consumption, drinking history, the amount of food in the stomach, bodyweight, age, gender, physical wellbeing, emotional state and mood.An altered state of consciousness is a brain state wherein one loses the sense of identity with one's body or with one's normal sense perceptions.
Give three examples of the effect alcohol may have on consciousness.
- A shortened attention span: for example, difficulties in maintaining concentration.
- Impaired thinking: for example, difficulties with understanding, thinking clearly, and using good judgement.
- Slower reaction time: for example, not reacting to stimuli or situations quickly.
In what sense is a state of consciousness a psychological construct?
Because states of consciousness cannot be directly observed or measured such as eye colour or height, is why consciousness and its various states are referred to as a psychological construct. A psychological construct is a concept that is 'constructed' to describe specific 'psychological' activity, or a pattern of activity, that is believed to occur or exist, but cannot be directly observed or measured.
Why do psychologists use physiological measures in the study of consciousness?
Observational studies and self-reports provide useful information about an individual's state of consciousness, but because they rely on an individual or observer's interpretation of behaviour, this method is often not as reliable or objective (as it is prone to bias) as physiological measure when studying consciousness. Using physiological measures in the study of consciousness give psychologists an accurate reading of bodily changes and responses during various states of consciousness. These measurements have provided psychologists with valuable evidence on levels of alertness and prime changes during NWC and ASC. Different patterns of physiological responses are associated with different levels of alertness and states of consciousness. Typically, variations occur in brain wave activity, heart rate, core body temperature and electrical conductivity of the skin.
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