Chapter Three:
States of Consciousness

Table of Contents

Part One: Consciousness

Part Two: Sleep

Part Three: Hypnosis

Part Four: Meditation

Part Five: Psychoactive Drugs


Overview of Chapter 3: States of Consciousness

This chapter relates in numerous ways to our ongoing integrative theme: the creative brain. We will review some major issues. What is consciousness? Does it have a function? Do psychologists finally have good tools for studying it? We will also review some altered states of consciousness, such as those associated with sleep, hypnosis, meditation, and psychoactive drugs.

Why devote a chapter to states of consciousness? Once it was the main focus of the discipline of psychology. Psychology began as the science of consciousness. After decades of mostly fruitless investigation, in the 1800s, the discipline of psychology took a radical turn away from the subject in the early 1900s. Behaviorists followed the lead of hard sciences like physics and chemistry, abandonning all talk of consciousness.

Fifty years later, after the cognitive and neuroscience revolutions, the pendulum swung back the other way again. For example, in the late 1990s over 30 scholarly books speculated about the biological nature of consciousness. We will not cover even a tiny fraction of the speculations contained in those books, although we will address some of the basic issues such as the distinction between conscious and unconscious thought and evidence for automaticity in human action.

Sleep and dreaming are states of consciousness that can be very strange but are experienced by everybody. If you have peculiar dreams while studying this chapter, do not be surprised; studying sleep and dreaming can have that effect. Some people claim never to remember dreams, and we will discuss that, too.

Hypnosis is another "fun" topic that alternately fascinates and annoys psychologists. We will strive for a calm, reasoned discussion of hypnosis, despite calling it an unnecessary construct in Chapter 1. Even if you just call it suggestion, the psychological phenomenon is compelling and important.

How this chapter is organized

The chapter begins with a brief discussion of consciousness as a research topic. We will examine a theme which has been re-discovered repeatedly over the years by different psychological theorists: the idea that there are two distinct modes of consciousness: analytic, serial processing and holistic, parallel processing.

The next section of the chapter deals with sleep, particularly the findings from the era known as the Golden Age of Sleep Research, such as the discovery of REM sleep and its correlation with dreaming. We will review normal sleep phenomena, and then sleep disorders.

After sleep we discuss hypnosis and meditation, with the accent on hypnosis. Once regarded as a "parlor trick," hypnosis is now the subject of research by psychologists. It is a genuine phenomenon, if not quite what people think it is, and it is related to many other important psychological phenomena, particularly the vivid experience of things that have not really occurred.

The last part of the chapter discusses psychoactive drugs. We will review behavioral and psychological phenomena associated with different psychoactive drugs.

Related topics in other chapters

Memory distortion and confabulation, raised here in connection with hypnosis, are discussed more detail in Chapter 6 (Memory), Chapter 13 (Therapies) and Chapter 14 (Frontiers of Psychology). Conscious and unconscious thought processes are discussed throughout Chapter 7 (Cognition). The mental processes of animals are in Chapter 8 (Animal Behavior and Cognition). Emotional states are discussed in Chapter 9 (Motivation and Emotion). Some disordered and abnormal states of conscious (depersonalization, psychosis, and more) are described in Chapter 12 (Abnormal Psychology). The topic of drug addiction is covered in Chapter 14, Frontiers of Psychology.


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