States of Consciousness

Psychology's Understanding of the Conscious Mind

What is Consciousness?

The Webster definition: the normal state of being awake and able to understand what is happening around you

What's the problem with this definition?

Circadian Rhythm

Regular bodily rhythms that occur on a 24-hour cycle, such as of wakefulness and body temperature

Body temperature actually rises as morning approaches, peaks during the day, and begins to drop at night

THE SLEEP CYCLE: 90 minute cycle composed of REM and NREM Sleep. There are four basic stages

Stage One: You lay down and begin to relax; sometimes leads to hypnagogic sensations such as a feeling of falling, or sudden jerking of a muscle. In this stage, you are awake but your brain is settling into Alpha Waves: alert, but relaxed brain activity.

Stage Two: Lasts about 20 minutes, during which sleep "spindles" would show up on a graph, indicating bursts of rapid brain activity

Stage Three: Delta Waves begin; person is much harder to wake. Example: Someone comments about a loud thunderstorm last night and you didn't hear anything.

Stage Four: Delta Waves deepen; activities such as sleepwalking and night terrors happen in this stage.

About an hour after you first fall asleep, you leave the NREM cycle and enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Your brain's motor cortex is highly active, but the Brainstem blocks messages to your PNS, leaving muscles essentially paralyzed. This serves the imperative of protecting you as you dream. The REM cycles get longer as the night progresses.

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Sleep Research and Sleep Disorders

Sleep Researcher William Dement (late 1990s)

Sleep Disorders:

1. Insomnia

persistent problems in falling or staying asleep

2. Narcolepsy

uncontrollable sleep attacks
is as unpredictable as a seizure

3. Sleep Apnea

temporary cessation of breathing

momentary reawakenings
Usually associated with obesity, can be handled with "sleep machines"

REM Rebound

REM sleep increases following REM sleep deprivation
Negative effects of sleep deprivation:

Effects of Sleep Loss
weight gain: sleep deprivation causes a decrease in the hunger-suppressing hormone Leptin


impaired concentration

depressed immune system

greater vulnerability to accidents

REM Cylce and Dreams

We do retain some awareness of our external environment when we dream
Why we Dream:
1. To satisfy wishes: Sigmund Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams"
2. To file away memories
3. To physically develop neurological pathways


The power of hypnosis depends on the subject's openness to suggestion.
Can hypnosis be used to force people to act against their will?
Answer: Study conducted by Martin Orne and Fredrick Evans suggest no. People under hypnosis are just as likely to obey an immoral command as people who are NOT hypnotized. Remember the Milgram Experiment?

Hypnosis CAN however, be therapeutic. Post-hypnotic suggestion has actually been shown to reduce physical pain such as headaches or other stress-related conditions.

Hypnosis has NOT been proven to have any effect at treating additions.
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Psychoactive Drugs

1.Psychoactive Drug

a chemical substance that alters perceptions and mood

2. Physical Dependence

physiological need for a drug

marked by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms

3. Psychological Dependence

a psychological need to use a drug

for example, to relieve negative emotions


diminishing effect with regular use


discomfort and distress that follow discontinued use


A. Depressants

drugs that reduce neural activity

slow body functions

alcohol, barbiturates, opiates

B. Stimulants

drugs that excite neural activity

speed up body functions

caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine


psychedelic (mind-manifesting) drugs that distort perceptions and evoke sensory images in the absence of sensory input


More Detail on Drugs

Most students are unfamiliar with


drugs that depress the activity of the central nervous system, reducing anxiety but impairing memory and judgement


opium and its derivatives (morphine and heroin)

opiates depress neural activity, temporarily lessening pain and anxiety


lysergic acid diethylamide

a powerful hallucinogenic drug

also known as acid

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