Chapter 5: Variations in Consciousness

Somniloquy - Is talking while sleeping. It’s like a soliloquy except done in someone’s slumber.

Narcolepsy - Is a sleep disorder where people will randomly go to sleep during the day.

The Nature of Consciousness


  • Is the awareness (with varying degrees) of internal & external stimuli.
  • Our thoughts flow & fluctuate; William James named this flow the stream of consciousness.

Variations in Awareness & Control

Attention & consciousness are closely related but not identical. You can have one without the other, which is evidenced by mind wandering (experiencing thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand). 15% to 50% of the time our brain is mind wandering.

There is a difference between controlled & automatic processes. Controlled are thoughts we intend, automatic are thoughts that are unintentional or effortless.

Unconscious Thought Effects

Conscious thought is thought with attention, unconscious thought is thought without attention. Studies show that in cases with lots of data, unconscious thought is better at decision-making.

Measuring Consciousness by Measuring Brain Activity

There is no distinct part of the brain responsible for consciousness, it is distributed amongst multiple networks of neural pathways. The electroencephalograph (EEG) is a device that monitors electrical activity in the brain over time using recording electrodes attached to the scalp. It summarizes cortical activity in line tracings called brain waves.

Brain waves very in amplitude (height of wave) and frequency (cycles per second). Human brain activity is divided into 4 principle bands:

Measures of brain waves don’t allow firm statements, especially regarding causation!

Biological Rhythms & Sleep

Biological Rhythms - Are periodic fluctuations in physiological functioning; “biological clocks”.

Circadian Rhythms - Are the 24-hour biological cycles found in humans & other animals. They are influential in the regulation of sleep but also influence variations in blood pressure, urine production, hormonal secretions, body temperature, etc.

our Bodies Readjusting the Biological Clocks within Us

When exposed to light, some receptors in the retina send direct inputs to a small structure in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which sends signals to the nearby pineal gland, whose secretion of hormone melatonin is key to adjusting biological clocks.

ignoring your Circadian Rhythms

When you ignore them, our quality of sleep suffers. If you do not get enough sleep you accumulate sleep debt, which needs to be paid back by sleeping extra.

Getting out of sync with your Circadian Rhythms causes ‘jet lag’ (occurs when flying across several time zones, because your biological clock doesn’t change with the clock time). This ‘jet lag’ causes poor-quality sleep, which can make you feel fatigued, sluggish & irritable. It reduces cognitive performance and increases chance of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, ulcers & autoimmune disorders.

Readjustment from jetlag is easier when you fly westward (when you lengthen your day) rather than eastward (when you shorten your day). Rotating shifts can also cause the above problems!

Realigning the Circadian Rhythms

Research shows that giving people small doses of the hormone melatonin (which regulated the internal biological clock) reduces the effects of jet lag but can be inconsistent. Giving too much melatonin can cause a desynchronized biological clock & it’s hard to measure the right dosage.

Shining a bright light in the eyes of rotating shift workers may also have positive effects, but research in this method has also been inconsistent. Another way to help shift workers is to have shifts start progressively later rather than progressively earlier.

The Sleep & Waking Cycle

Studying Sleep

In sleep labs, sleeping participants are hooked up to an EEG, an electromyograph (EMG; records muscular activity/tension) and an electrooculograph (EOG; records eye movements). It is also common to measure the participant’s heart rate, breathing, pulse rate & body temperature.

It takes one night for participants to adapt to the new & strange bedroom!

5 Stages of Sleep

The length of time it takes to fall asleep depends on how long ago the person slept, where in their circadian cycle they’re in, amount of noise/light in the surroundings, age, desire to sleep, boredom level, recent caffeine or drug intake, stress level, etc.

Stage 1 - A light sleep that lasts 1-7 minutes. Breathing & heart rate slow as muscle tension & body temperature decline. Theta waves become prominent. Hypnic jerks (brief muscular contractions) occur.

For the rest of the stages respiration rate, heart rate, muscle tension, body temperature continue to fall!

Stage 2 - Brief bursts of higher-frequency brain waves occur, known as sleep spindles. Brain waves become higher in amplitude and slower in frequency as the body enters slow-wave sleep.

Stage 3 & 4 - Slow-wave sleep consists of stages 3 & 4, during which high-amplitude, low-frequency delta waves become prominent. Sleepers reach this phase ~30 minutes in & stay there for ~30 minutes. Then the cycles reverses itself & sleepers gradually moves back upward through the lighter stages.

REM Sleep - When sleepers reach stage 1 again, they usually enter the 5th stage; Rapid Eye Movement sleep. It is hard to awake someone during this stage. This stage is marked with irregular breathing & pulse rate. Muscle tone is so extremely relaxed that the sleeper is virtually paralyzed. EEG activity is dominated by beta waves (the ones usually seen when awake). Most likely to dream in this stage.

Stages 1-4 are usually known as Non-REM sleep (NREM)!

Sleep Cycle Repetition

It's repeated 4 times. The first REM period is relatively short (a few minutes) but subsequent REM periods do get longer (peaking at around 40-60 minutes). NREM sleep periods tend to get shorter. This means that most slow-wave sleep occurs early in the sleep cycle & REM sleep piles up in the second half of the sleep cycle. 15-20% of sleep time is slow-wave sleep, 20-25% for REM.

Effects of Age on the Sleep Cycle

Babies only have 2 sleep cycles (REM & NREM), and will sleep 16 hours a day. REM lasts longer, accounting for 50% of sleep time but drops to 30% by the first birthday.

In adults, percentage of REM sleep time stays the same but slow-wave sleep declines dramatically but percent time spent in stage 1 increases slightly. Total hours of sleep also decline as age increases. Research suggests that the older one gets, the less sleep is required.

Effects of Culture on Sleep

It doesn’t affect too much, except for peripheral matters. In most cultures, co-sleeping (practice of children & parents sleeping together) is normal except in the West. Napping practices also vary, as certain cultures have a custom of napping in the afternoon (during hottest hour of the day).

Neural Bases of Sleep

Sleep seems to be regulated by subcortical structures deep within the brain. The reticular formation, located in the core of the brainstem, is important to sleep & wakefulness. The ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) consists of afferent fibres running through the reticular formation & influences physiological arousal. The ARAS projects all over the cortex. Pons & adjacent areas in midbrain may be critical to the generation of REM. Hypothalamus, specific areas in the medulla, thalamus, basal forebrain & neurotransmitters also regulate sleep.

Evolutionary Bases of Sleep

Sleep seems to have an evolutionary function. One hypothesis is that sleep evolved to conserve an organism’s energy (ex. in humans, energy consumption by brain is reduced by 30% in sleep). Another hypothesis; the inactivity reduces exposure to predators & consumption of resources. A third hypothesis is that sleep helps restore bodily resources that are depleted while awake.

The evidence is in favour for the energy conservation hypothesis but there is room for debate!

Sleep Restriction

  • Occurs when people get substantially less sleep than normal over a period of time. Also known as partial sleep deprivation.
  • The effects of sleep restriction include impairment of attention, reaction time, cognitive speed/accuracy, motor coordination, decision-making, etc. It can cause accidents & illness.
  • The effects of sleep restriction depend on amount of sleep lost, where one is in their circadian cycle, the nature of the task, etc.

Selective Deprivation

A form of sleep restriction but is the deprivation of only one type of sleep (REM or NREM), by waking them up whenever they enter the stage. This can only happen in a lab setting!

REM deprivation has little impact on daytime functioning & task performance. However, the body tries to make up by entering the REM stage more often as deprivation increases. Even after the lab trials, the bodies spend extra time in REM period for 1-3 nights to make up for the loss.

This exact same thing happens for slow-wave sleep!

REM & Slow-Wave Sleep

We need it for memory consolidation. Each type of sleep strengthens certain types of memories. REM sleep appears to foster neurogenesis (the process of forming new neurons in the brain), which contributes to learning. REM also seems to enhance creativity.

Effects of Sleep Loss on Health

As well as the effects listed above, sleep restriction can trigger hormonal changes that increase hunger (increased chance of obesity), leads to impaired immune system functioning & increased inflammatory responses (increased chance of diabetes, hypertension & cardiovascular disease). Sleeping too much (10+ hours) & sleeping too little (8 or less hours) increases mortality rate.

Sleep Disorders

There are 78 types of sleep disorders (according to American Sleep Disorders Association).

Insomnia - Chronic problems in getting enough sleep. 1/3 of adults (more women) report having this. Difficulty falling asleep/staying asleep & waking up too early. Can be caused by anxiety, tension, emotional problems, depression, health issues, drugs (cocaine & amphetamines), hyperarousal, etc. Can be treated with sedatives (benzodiazepine or nonbenzodiazepine) but is not effective. Can be treated with cognitive-behavioural treatment which appears to be better.

Narcolepsy - A disorder where people suddenly & irresistibly fall asleep at random times.

Sleep Apnea - A disorder where a person will suddenly wake up & gasp for air. Can be improved by weight loss, reduced alcohol, better sleep hygiene, drug therapy, special masks, oral devices, upper airway/craniofacial surgery.

Nightmares - Anxiety-arousing dreams that lead to awakening, usually from REM sleep. Mostly in children.

Night Terrors - Sleep terrors are abrupt awakenings from NREM sleep, followed by intense feeling of panic & arousal. It can produce accelerations of heart rate, usually occurring during stage 4 early in sleep.

Somnambulism - Sleep walking occurs during the first 2 hours of sleep.

REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) - Enacting parts of a dream by talking, yelling, gesturing, etc.


Changing View on Dreams

Dreams are mental experiences during REM sleep that have story-like qualities, vivid imagery & are often bizarre. However, researches are questioning these characterizations & saying that dreams aren’t that weird after all.

The Contents of People’s Dreams

Dreams are relatively mundane & involve people and settings the dreamer is familiar with. Dreams tend to involve implausible scenarios & logical discrepancies but they’re generally coherent. Almost all dreams are experienced from a first-person perspective. Dreams are generally self-centred.

Links Between Dreams & Waking Life

What people dream about is affected by what is going on in their lives. Freud called this mixing of dream & waking life day residue. External stimuli (like alarms) are often incorporated into people’s dreams.

Lucid Dreams

Dreams in which people know they’re dreaming, but don’t awake. Sometimes can exert control.

Effects of Culture on Dreams

Some cultures put more significance in dreams, and what they can tell us about ourselves. Some basic dream themes appear to be nearly universal (falling, being pursued/chased, having sex) but other themes can be based on the local struggle of the culture (like gathering food or water).

Theories of Dreaming

Sigmund Freud

Believed dreams were for wish fulfillment. He believed that dreams hide their deeper meaning, so he distinguished between the manifest & latent content of dreams. Manifest is the surface-level plot. Latent is the disguised meaning.

Rosalind Cartwright

Believed dreams were for cognitive problem solving.

J. Allan Hobson & Robert McCarley

Says dreams are a by-product of bursts of neural activity in the subcortical areas in the brain. Their activation-synthesis model says that dreams are side effects of neural activation which produce “wide-awake” brain waves. However, it doesn’t explain dreams outside of REM sleep & doesn’t explain the day residue effect of dreams.

All of this is based on conjecture & the true purpose of dreams in unknown!


History of Hypnosis

Franz Anton Mesmer claimed that he could heal people by laying his hands on them in 18th century Paris. Eventually, he was run out of town. But he inspired a group of followers who practiced mesmerism. That’s why we say we are mesmerized by an event or story, to this day.

Scottish physician James Braid wanted to use the trancelike state that could be induced by mesmerists as anesthesia before surgeries. He popularized the term hypnotism in 1843, borrowing from Greek word ‘sleep’. Chemical anesthetics were discovered & interest in hypnotism fell.

Since then, hypnotism has been studied & used as a clinical tool for over a century. However, its popularity mostly stems from entertainers & tricks which has diminished its reputation.

Hypnosis - A systematic procedure that produces a heightened state of suggestibility. It may lead to passive relaxation, narrowed attention & enhanced fantasy.

Inducting Hypnosis

Usually, the hypnotist will suggest to the subject that he or she is relaxing. Repetitively & softly, subjects are told that they are getting tired, drowsy or sleepy. They will vividly describe bodily sensations that should be occurring. They’ll tell the subjects that limbs are going limp, feet are getting warm, eyelids are getting heavy, etc. Most subjects will gradually succumb.

Hypnotic Susceptibility

People’s susceptibility to being hypnotized varies person to person. It can be estimated with the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS) or the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility. It has a weak correlation with personality but highly hypnotizable people score better on absorption & imaginativeness.

~10-20% of the population do not respond to hypnosis, & 10-15% respond extremely well to hypnosis. People responsive to suggestion under hypnosis tend to be just as responsive without hypnosis, because they have a high imaginative suggestibility.

The Effects (Phenomena) of Hypnosis

Anesthesia - Participants can withstand more pain under hypnosis, but drugs are far more reliable.

Sensory Distortions & Hallucinations - Auditory, visual, smell & taste hallucinations.

Disinhibition - Committing actions that the subject perceives as unacceptable. Might just be because subject’s feel they won’t be responsible for their actions.

Posthypnotic Suggestions & Amnesia - Suggestions made during the hypnosis may influence future behaviour.

Example \rightarrow Telling subjects to remember nothing from being under hypnosis & they don’t.

Social-Cognitive Theory of Hypnosis

Theodore Barber & Nicholas Spanos

Believe hypnosis is a normal mental state in which suggestible people play a role of being hypnotized. A subjects’ expectations produce hypnotism.

The false claim ‘people can do things under hypnosis they can’t otherwise’ supports this theory. Second evidence is that people’s memory under hypnosis has been shown to not improve.

The Altered State of Consciousness Theory of Hypnosis

Some say that role playing can’t explain why hypnosis works as an anesthetic, or why some subjects’ future behaviour is influenced by hypnosis (they should drop the act when alone).

They believe that hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness all together, & evidence suggests that changes in brain activity do occur during hypnosis. According to Ernest Hilgard, hypnosis creates a dissociation in consciousness by splitting off mental processes into two separate yet simultaneous streams of awareness. This divided consciousness also exists in what’s known as highway hypnosis when you drive miles while realizing it.

Meditation - Pure Consciousness or Relaxation

Meditation refers to a family of practices that train attention to heighten awareness & bring mental processes under greater voluntary control; a deliberate effort to alter consciousness. In North America, meditation is associated with yoga, Zen & transcendental meditation (TM).

There are two styles that reflect how attention is directed:

Focused Attention - Attention in concentrated on a specific object, image, sound & bodily sensation (ex. breathing). The intent is to narrow the attention to clear the mind of clutter.

Open Monitoring - Attention is directed to the contents of one’s moment-to-moment experience in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive way. The intent is become a detached observer of one’s own sensation & thoughts.

Both seek to achieve a ‘higher’ form of consciousness!

The Physiological Responses of Meditation

Alpha waves & theta waves become more prominent in EEG recordings. Heart rate, skin conductance, respiration rate, oxygen consumption & CO2 elimination all decline. Overall, it suppresses bodily arousal.

Evidence for Long-Term Benefits of Meditation

Meditation reduces stress by lowering levels of stress hormones & enhancing immune response. It may improve mental health while reducing anxiety & drug abuse. May have beneficial effects on blood pressure, reduced distressing thoughts (rumination), working memory & focus, increasing self-esteem, cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, mood, one’s sense of control, happiness, cardiovascular health, sleep, pain tolerance, grey matter in the brain, etc. It even has emotion benefits, such as an increase in empathy, compassion, counselling skills, creativity & intelligence. Some argue it can heighten awareness, build emotional resilience & foster moral maturity.

Altering Consciousness with Drugs

Drug use for non-medical purposes is known as drug abuse or recreational drug use.

Psychoactive Drugs

Chemical substances that modify mental, emotional or behavioural functioning (usually for purpose of elevating mood or producing other pleasurable alterations in consciousness).

6 Categories of Psychoactive Drugs

Narcotics - Drugs derived from opium that are capable of relieving pain, like heroin or morphine. Produce an overwhelming sense of euphoria, abnormal drowsiness (lethargy), nausea, impaired mental & motor functioning. The opioid epidemic, caused by oxycodone (OxyContin), is a narcotic!

Sedatives - Sleep-inducing drugs that decreases central nervous system (CNS) activation & behavioural activity. Produces a euphoria similar to alcohol, sense of relaxation, pleasant state of intoxication & loosened inhibitions. Also induces drowsiness, unpredictable emotional swings, and severe impairments in mental & motor functioning.

Stimulants - Drugs that increase central nervous system (CNS) activation & behavioural activity, such as caffeine, nicotine or cocaine. Cocaine & amphetamines produce euphoria different than narcotics & sedatives. Increases energy, alertness. ‘Crack’ or ‘crank’ are street version of cocaine & amphetamine, respectfully.

Hallucinogens - Drugs that have powerful effects on mental/emotional functioning by distorting sensory & perceptual experience, such as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin. Produces euphoria, increases awareness & distorts time.

Cannabis - Hemp plant from which marijuana, hashish & THC are derived. Marijuana is a mixture of dried leaves, flowers, stems & seeds taken from the plant. Hashish comes from the plant’s resin. THC is the active chemical ingredient in cannabis. Produces mild euphoria, anxiety, sluggish mental functioning & impaired memory. Increases chance of diseases like respiratory & pulmonary disease, lung cancer, schizophrenia & other psychotic illnesses.

Alcohol - Beverages containing ethyl alcohol. 4% in beers to 40% in some liquors. Produces relaxed euphoria, increases self-esteem, loosens inhibitions. Impairment in mental/motor functions, mood swings, quarrelsomeness.

MDMA - Ecstasy is a compound drug related to both amphetamines & hallucinogens (especially mescaline). It’s not a specific category of drugs but it is a popular drug that doesn’t fall into the other categories. Produces euphoria, increases friendliness, empathy, insightfulness, alertness & energy. Increases blood pressure, muscle tension, sweating, blurred vision, insomnia, depression & anxiety. Increases chance of stroke, heart attack, seizures, heat stroke, and liver damage. Decreases memory, attention & learning over long-term use.

Factors that Influence Drug Effects

Age, mood, motivation, personality, previous experience with the drug, body weight, physiology, dose/potency of drug, method of administration, immediate setting/surroundings & expectations.

Tolerance - Is a progressive decrease in a person’s responsiveness to a drug.

Mechanisms of Drug Action

Psychoactive drugs alter neurotransmitter (chemicals that send info between neurons at synapses) activity in the brain. Psychoactive drugs increase dopamine in the brain by reducing dopamine uptake at the synapses in a particular neural pathway called the mesolimbic dopamine pathway (runs from midbrain through nucleus accumbens & on to the prefrontal cortex).

Difference Between Physical & Psychological Dependence

Physical Dependence - Is when a person must continue drug use to avoid withdrawal illness. Can cause fever, chills, tremors, convulsions, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, pain, fatigue, apathy, irritability, depression & disorientation. Psychological dependence is when a person must continue drug use to avoid mental/emotional cravings. This dependence is possible for all drugs.

Ways Drugs Harm Health

  1. Overdose (death)
  2. Direct (tissue damage)
  3. Indirect Effects (attitudes, intentions & behaviour).


Featured Study - Merits of Unconscious Thought

This study was designed to test the hypothesis that unconscious thought might be superior to conscious thought processes under certain conditions.


Participants included 80 female & 14 male undergraduate students. Each were presented with 12 pieces of information about each of 3 roommates, and asked to imagine sharing a room with the potential roommates. Roommate A was the best roommate, followed by B & then Roommate C. Participants were asked to rate the roommates from 1-9.

Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 experimental conditions. Either they were asked to give their decision immediately; or were given 4 minutes to decide & were instructed to carefully think about each of the roommates; or they were given a demanding task to complete for four minutes, which didn’t allow them to reflect on their choice before they gave it.


Participants who were not given the opportunity to consciously reflect on the qualities of potential roommates made more accurate evaluations than did those who were asked to make immediate ratings or those that had time to reflect and engage in conscious thought.

Personal Application - Addressing Questions about Sleep & Dreams

  • Naps can prove helpful, but alcohol and many other widely used drugs have a negative effect on sleep. Yawning appears to be associated with boredom & sleepiness but is not well understood. Snoring may have more medical significance than most people realize.
  • People can do many things to avoid or reduce sleep problems. Individuals troubled by transient insomnia should avoid panic, pursue effective relaxation & try distracting themselves so they don’t work too hard at falling asleep.
  • Everyone dreams, but some people don’t remember them. Freud asserted that dreams require interpretation, but modern theorists assert this process may not be as complicated as Freud assumed.

Critical Thinking Application

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Like many questions, the issue of whether alcoholism should be regarded as a disease is a matter of definition. In evaluating the validity of a definition, one should look not only at the definition but also at where it came from. People tend to use definitions as explanations for the phenomena they describe, but doing so involves circular reasoning.

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