By Robert Biswas-Diener and also Jake Teeny

Portland State University, The Ohio State University

No matter what you’redoing--solving homework, play a video clip game, simply picking the end a shirt--all ofyour actions and decisions relate to her consciousness. But as typically as weuse it, have actually you ever stopped to ask yourself: What really is consciousness? In this module, we comment on the different levelsof consciousness and how lock can influence your habits in a range ofsituations. As well, we explore the function of consciousness in other, “altered”states favor hypnosis and sleep.

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Learning Objectives

Define consciousness and also distinguish in between high and also low aware statesExplain the relationship between consciousness and biasUnderstand the difference between popular portrayals of hypnosis and how it is currently used therapeuticallyIntroduction

Have you ever had a other motorist stopped next to you in ~ a red light, singing his brains out, or picking his nose, or otherwise behaving in ways he might not normally do in public? over there is something around being alone in a car that encourages civilization to zone out and also forget the others can see them. Although these tiny lapses the attention are amusing for the rest of us, they are also instructive as soon as it comes to the topic of consciousness.

This male is to sing his heart the end in his one-man mobile music studio. Have actually you ever done this?

Consciousness is a term intended to suggest awareness. It includes awareness the the self, that bodily sensations, the thoughts and also of the environment. In English, we use the opposite word “unconscious” to show senselessness or a obstacle to awareness, as in the instance of “Theresa dropped off the ladder and hit her head, knocking it s her unconscious.” and also yet, emotional theory and also research imply that consciousness and also unconsciousness are more complicated than falling turn off a ladder. The is, consciousness is an ext than simply being “on” or “off.” because that instance, Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)—a emotional theorist—understood that also while we space awake, numerous things lay exterior the realm of our mindful awareness (like being in the car and forgetting the remainder of the human being can see into your windows). In response to this notion, Freud introduced the principle of the “subconscious” (Freud, 2001) and also proposed that few of our memories and also even our basic motivations space not always available to our conscious minds.

Upon reflection, the is simple to see just how slippery a topic awareness is. Because that example, are people mindful when castle are daydreaming? What around when castle are drunk? In this module, we will describe several level of consciousness and also then discuss altered states of awareness such together hypnosis and sleep.

Levels of Awareness

In 1957, a marketing researcher put the indigenous “Eat Popcorn” ~ above one structure of a film being presented all across the joined States. And although that framework was only projected onto the movie screen because that 1/24th the a second—a rate too fast to be perceived by conscious awareness—the researcher reported an increase in popcorn sales by nearly 60%. Almost immediately, all develops of “subliminal messaging” were regulated in the US and banned in nations such together Australia and the joined Kingdom. Also though it was later presented that the researcher had consisted of the data (he hadn’t even inserted the words into the film), this fear about influences on our subconscious persists. At its heart, this concern pits assorted levels the awareness against one another. On the one hand, we have the “low awareness” of subtle, also subliminal influences. On the other hand, over there is you—the mindful thinking, feeling you which has all the you are right now aware of, even reading this sentence. However, as soon as we consider these different levels that awareness separately, us can far better understand exactly how they operate.

Low Awareness

You room constantly receiving and analyzing sensory information. Although each moment has actually too plenty of sights, smells, and sounds because that them every to it is in consciously considered, our brain are nonetheless processing all the information. Because that example, have you ever been at a party, overwhelmed by all the people and also conversation, as soon as out of i do not have anything you hear her name called? also though you have actually no idea what rather the person is saying, you are somehow mindful of her name (for an ext on this, “the cocktail party effect,” check out Noba’s Module ~ above Attention). So, even though you may not it is in aware of miscellaneous stimuli in her environment, your mind is payment closer attention than you think.

similar to a reflex (like jumping when startled), some cues, or far-ranging sensory information, will instantly elicit a solution from us also though we never ever consciously consciousness it. For example, Öhman and Soares (1994) measured ethereal variations in sweat of participants through a are afraid of snakes. The researchers flashed images of various objects (e.g., mushrooms, flowers, and most importantly, snakes) ~ above a screen in front of them, yet did so at speeds that left the participant clueless regarding what he or she had actually seen. However, once snake photos were flashed, this participants began sweating much more (i.e., a authorize of fear), also though they had no idea what they’d just viewed!

although our brain perceive part stimuli there is no our conscious awareness, do they really impact our succeeding thoughts and behaviors? In a landmark study, Bargh, Chen, and also Burrows (1996) had actually participants deal with a word find puzzle whereby the answers involved words about the elderly (e.g., “old,” “grandma”) or something random (e.g., “notebook,” “tomato”). Afterward, the researchers covertly measured how rapid the participants walked down the hallway exiting the experiment. And although nobody of the attendees were mindful of a design template to the answers, those who had actually solved a puzzle with elderly words (vs. Those with other species of words) walked much more slowly under the hallway!


This effect is called priming (i.e., easily “activating” certain concepts and also associations native one’s memory) has actually been uncovered in a variety of other studies. Because that example, priming people by having them drink from a warmth glass (vs. A cold one) resulted in behaving an ext “warmly” towards others (Williams & Bargh, 2008). Although every one of these influences happen beneath one’s aware awareness, they still have a far-reaching effect on one’s succeeding thoughts and also behaviors. 

In the last 2 decades, researchers have actually made advances in studying aspects of psychology that exist beyond aware awareness. As you can understand, that is difficult to usage self-reports and surveys come ask people around motives or ideas that they, themselves, can not also be conscious of! One way of side-stepping this difficulty can be discovered in the latent associations test, or IAT (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998). This research technique uses computers to evaluate people’s reaction time to assorted stimuli and also is a very complicated test to fake due to the fact that it records automatic reaction that take place in milliseconds. For instance, to melted light ~ above deeply held biases, the IAT could present photographs the Caucasian faces and also Asian faces while asking study participants come click buttons indicating either “good” or “bad” as conveniently as possible. Even if the participant clicks “good” for every confront shown, the IAT can still choose up tiny delays in responding. Delays are connected with an ext mental initiative needed to process information. When information is processed quickly—as in the example of white encounters being judged as “good”—it can be contrasted with slower processing—as in the example of asian faces gift judged together “good”—and the distinction in processing speed is reflective the bias. In this regard, the IAT has actually been used for investigating stereotypes (Nosek, Banaji & Greenwald, 2002) and self-esteem (Greenwald & Farnam, 2000). This method can help uncover non-conscious biases and those that we are urged to suppress.

An actual screenshot indigenous an IAT (Implicit association Test) that a person might take come test their own psychological representations of miscellaneous cognitive constructs. In this particular case, this is an object testing one individual’s unconscious reaction towards members of miscellaneous ethnic groups.

High Awareness

Just because we might be influenced by these “invisible” factors, the doesn’t median we room helplessly regulated by them. The other side the the awareness continuum is recognized as “high awareness.” This consists of effortful attention and also careful decision making. Because that example, when you listen to a funny story ~ above a date, or think about which class schedule would be preferable, or complete a complicated math problem, you space engaging a state of consciousness that permits you to it is in highly aware of and also focused on particular details in your environment.

Meditation has been exercised for century in religious contexts. In the past 50 year it has end up being increasingly renowned as a secular practice. Clinical studies have attached meditation to reduced stress and higher well-being.

Mindfulness is a state of higher consciousness that consists of an awareness of the think passing with one’s head. Because that example, have actually you ever snapped at who in frustration, just to take it a moment and reflect ~ above why you responded so aggressively? This an ext effortful factor to consider of your thoughts might be defined as an development of your conscious awareness together you take the time to think about the feasible influences on your thoughts. Research has shown that as soon as you connect in this more deliberate consideration, you space less encouraged by irregularity yet biasing influences, like the presence of a celebrity in an advertisement (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Greater awareness is additionally associated with recognizing as soon as you’re utilizing a stereotype, rather than fairly evaluating another person (Gilbert & Hixon, 1991).

Humans alternative between low and also high thinking states. The is, we shift between concentrated attention and a less attentive default sate, and we have neural networks because that both (Raichle, 2015). Interestingly, the the much less we’re payment attention, the an ext likely we room to be influenced by non-conscious stimuli (Chaiken, 1980). Although these subtle impacts may influence us, we have the right to use our greater conscious awareness to protect versus external influences. In what’s recognized as the versatile Correction version (Wegener & Petty, 1997), human being who are aware that your thoughts or behavior are being influenced by one undue, exterior source, deserve to correct their attitude versus the bias. For example, you might be mindful that girlfriend are influenced by point out of certain political parties. If girlfriend were encouraged to take into consideration a government policy you deserve to take your very own biases into account to effort to think about the plan in a fair means (on its own merits quite than being attached come a certain party). 

To help make the relationship in between lower and higher consciousness clearer, imagine the mind is like a journey down a river. In short awareness, you just float on a small rubber raft and also let the currents press you. It"s not very complicated to simply drift along but you also don"t have full control. Higher states of consciousness are much more like travel in a canoe. In this scenario, you have a paddle and can steer, however it requires an ext effort. This analogy applies to numerous states of consciousness, yet not all. What about other says such as like sleeping, daydreaming, or hypnosis? how are these pertained to our conscious awareness? 

Table 1: claims of ConsciousnessOther states of Consciousness


If you’ve ever before watched a phase hypnotist perform, it may paint a misleading portrait the this state the consciousness. The hypnotized people on stage, because that example, appear to be in a state comparable to sleep. However, together the hypnotist proceeds with the show, girlfriend would acknowledge some extensive differences between sleep and also hypnosis. Namely, when you’re asleep, hearing words “strawberry” doesn’t do you flap her arms like a chicken. In stage performances, the hypnotized participants appear to be highly suggestible, come the suggest that they room seemingly under the hypnotist’s control. Together performances room entertaining yet have a means of sensationalizing the true nature of hypnotic states.

People gift hypnotized ~ above stage.

Hypnosis is an actual, recorded phenomenon—one that has been studied and also debated because that over 200 year (Pekala et al., 2010). Franz Mesmer (1734 – 1815) is often credited as amongst the very first people come “discover” hypnosis, which he supplied to law members the elite culture who to be experiencing mental distress. The is from Mesmer’s name that we obtain the English word, “mesmerize” an interpretation “to enntrance gate or transfix a who attention.” Mesmer deadline the result of hypnosis come “animal magnetism,” a claimed universal force (similar come gravity) that operates with all human bodies. Also at the time, such an account that hypnosis was no scientifically supported, and Mesmer self was frequently the facility of controversy.

Over the years, researchers have actually proposed the hypnosis is a psychological state defined by lessened peripheral awareness and increased focus on a singular stimulus, which outcomes in an magnified susceptibility to ide (Kihlstrom, 2003). Because that example, the hypnotist will typically induce hypnosis by acquiring the human being to pay attention just to the hypnotist’s voice. As the individual focuses much more and more on that, s/he starts to forget the context of the setting and responds come the hypnotist’s proposal as if they were his or her own. Some human being are naturally more suggestible, and therefore much more “hypnotizable” than room others, and also this is especially true because that those that score high in empathy (Wickramasekera II & Szlyk, 2003). One usual “trick” of stage hypnotists is to discard volunteers that are much less suggestible than others. 

Dissociation is the separation of one’s awareness from whatever besides what one is centrally concentrated on. For example, if you’ve ever been daydreaming in class, girlfriend were likely so caught up in the fantasy that you didn’t hear a native the teacher said. Throughout hypnosis, this dissociation becomes even an ext extreme. The is, a human concentrates so lot on the native of the hypnotist the s/he loses perspective that the remainder of the world around them. As a consequence of dissociation, a human is much less effortful, and less self-conscious in consideration of his or her own thoughts and behaviors. Comparable to low awareness states, whereby one often acts on the very first thought that involves mind, so, too, in hypnosis does the individual just follow the very first thought that comes to mind, i.e., the hypnotist’s suggestion. Still, just since one is more susceptible to ide under hypnosis, that doesn’t median s/he will perform anything that’s ordered. To be hypnotized, friend must first want to it is in hypnotized (i.e., you can not be hypnotized versus your will; Lynn & Kirsh, 2006), and once you are hypnotized, girlfriend won’t carry out anything friend wouldn’t additionally do when in a an ext natural state of consciousness (Lynn, Rhue, & Weekes, 1990).

Today, hypnotherapy is still provided in a range of formats, and it has progressed from Mesmer’s early on tinkering through the concept. Modern-day hypnotherapy often uses a combination of relaxation, suggestion, an ideas and expectancies to develop a preferred mental or behavioral state. Although over there is mixed proof on whether hypnotherapy can aid with seeks reduction (e.g., quitting smoking; abbot et al., 1998) over there is some proof that it deserve to be successful in dealing with sufferers the acute and also chronic ache (Ewin, 1978; Syrjala et al., 1992). For example, one examine examined the therapy of burn patients v either hypnotherapy, pseudo-hypnosis (i.e., a placebo condition), or no treatment at all. Afterward, also though world in the placebo problem experienced a 16% to decrease in pain, those in the really hypnosis problem experienced a reduction of practically 50% (Patterson et al., 1996). Thus, even though hypnosis might be sensationalized for television and also movies, its ability to disassociate a person from their setting (or your pain) in associate with increased suggestibility come a clinician’s referrals (e.g., “you will certainly feel much less anxiety around your chronic pain”) is a documented practice with actual clinical benefits.

Now, comparable to hypnotic states, trance states additionally involve a dissociation that the self; however, human being in a trance state are said to have less voluntary control over your behaviors and also actions. Trance states frequently occur in spiritual ceremonies, whereby the person believes the or she is “possessed” by an otherworldly gift or force. If in trance, human being report anecdotal accounts of a “higher consciousness” or communion through a better power. However, the human body of study investigating this phenomenon tends to refuse the claim that this experiences constitute one “altered state that consciousness.”

Most researcher today define both hypnosis and trance claims as “subjective” alterations the consciousness, no an actually distinctive or evolved kind (Kirsch & Lynn, 1995). Similar to you feel various when you’re in a state of deep relaxation, so, too, are hypnotic and also trance states just shifts from the standard aware experience. Researchers complete that also though both hypnotic and also trance claims appear and also feel wildly various than the normal human being experience, they have the right to be defined by traditional socio-cognitive components like imagination, expectation, and the translate of the situation.


Sleep is essential in order for civilization to duty well.

You may have actually experienced the sensation-- together you are falling asleep-- that falling and also then found yourself physical jerking forward and grabbing out as if girlfriend were yes, really falling. Sleep is a distinct state of consciousness; that lacks complete awareness yet the brain is quiet active. World generally follow a “biological clock” that impacts when they naturally come to be drowsy, once they loss asleep, and also the time they naturally awaken. The hormone melatonin rises at night and is connected with coming to be sleepy. Her natural day-to-day rhythm, or Circadian Rhythm, have the right to be affected by the lot of daylight come which you space exposed as well as your job-related and task schedule. Changing your location, such together flying from Canada come England, have the right to disrupt your organic sleep rhythms, and we call this jet lag. You have the right to overcome jet lag by synchronizing you yourself to the neighborhood schedule through exposing yourself to daylight and forcing you yourself to stay awake even though girlfriend are normally sleepy.

Interestingly, sleep chin is much more than shutting turn off for the night (or because that a nap). Instead of turning off like a light with a flick the a switch, your change in awareness is reflected in her brain’s electric activity. While you space awake and alert your brain activity is marked by beta waves. Beta tide are identified by gift high in frequency however low in intensity. In addition, they are the most inconsistent mind wave and this mirrors the wide variation in sensory input that a human processes during the day. As you begin to be sure these adjust to alpha waves. These waves reflect brain activity the is much less frequent, more consistent and much more intense. Together you slip right into actual sleep you transition through many stages. Scholars differ on just how they characterize sleep stages v some experts arguing that there are four distinctive stages (Manoach et al., 2010), while others recognize five (Šušmáková, & Krakovská, 2008) but lock all distinguish in between those that incorporate rapid eye motion (REM) and also those that space non-rapid eye activity (NREM). In addition, each phase is typically defined by that own distinctive pattern of mind activity:

Stage 1 (called NREM 1, or N1) is the "falling asleep" stage and also is marked by theta waves.Stage 2 (called NREM 2, or N2) is thought about a light sleep. Here, there space occasional “sleep spindles,” or really high intensity brain waves. These room thought come be associated with the handling of memories. NREM 2 makes up around 55% of every sleep.Stage 3 (called NREM 3, or N3) provides up in between 20-25% of all sleep and is marked by better muscle relaxation and the appearance of delta waves.Finally, REM sleep is marked by quick eye activity (REM). Interestingly, this stage—in terms of mind activity—is comparable to wakefulness. The is, the mind waves occur less intensely than in other stages that sleep. REM sleep accounts for about 20% of all sleep and also is connected with dreaming. 
Figure 1. Alters in brain activity or brainwaves throughout different stages of consciousness – from being awake and throughout miscellaneous stages the sleep.

Dreams are, arguably, the most interesting element of sleep. Throughout background dreams have actually been offered special importance because of their unique, practically mystical nature. They have actually been assumed to it is in predictions the the future, ideas of hidden aspects of the self, important lessons around how come live life, or methods to engage in impossible deeds choose flying. There are several competing theories the why people dream. One is the it is ours nonconscious effort to make sense of our day-to-day experiences and learning. Another, popularized by Freud, is that dreams represent taboo or troublesome desire or desires. Nevertheless of the details reason we know a few facts around dreams: all human beings dream, we dream in ~ every stage of sleep, but dreams during REM sleep are specifically vivid. One under-explored area the dream research is the feasible social features of dreams: we regularly share our dreams with others and also use them for entertainment value.

Sleep serves many functions, among which is to give us a period of mental and physical restoration. Youngsters generally need more sleep than adults since they room developing. That is for this reason vital, in fact, the a absence of sleep is connected with a wide range of problems. Human being who perform not obtain adequate sleep are an ext irritable, have slower reaction time, have actually more challenge sustaining attention, and also make poorer decisions. Interestingly, this is an worry relevant to the resides of college students. In one very cited research researchers discovered that 1 in 5 college student took more than 30 minutes to autumn asleep at night, 1 in 10 periodically took sleep medications, and more than fifty percent reported gift “mostly tired” in the mornings (Buboltz, et al, 2001).

Psychoactive Drugs

on April 16, 1943, Albert Hoffman—a Swiss chemist functioning in a pharmaceutical company—accidentally ingested a recently synthesized drug. The drug—lysergic mountain diethylimide (LSD)—turned the end to it is in a powerful hallucinogen. Hoffman went home and later reported the impacts of the drug, relenten them as seeing the people through a “warped mirror” and experiencing visions of “extraordinary forms with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” Hoffman had discovered what members that many classic cultures about the world currently knew: there are substances that, when ingested, have the right to have a powerful effect ~ above perception and on consciousness.

Drugs run on human physiology in a selection of ways and researchers and also medical physicians tend come classify medicine according to your effects. Here we will briefly cover 3 category of drugs: hallucinogens, depressants, and also stimulants.


It is possible that hallucinogens are the substance that have, historically, been provided the many widely. Timeless societies have actually used plant-based hallucinogens such as peyote, ebene, and also psilocybin mushroom in a wide selection of spiritual ceremonies. Hallucinogens space substances that change a person’s perceptions, often by developing visions or hallucinations that room not real. There are a wide variety of hallucinogens and many are used as recreational building material in industrialized societies. Typical examples incorporate marijuana, LSD, and MDMA (also recognized as “ecstasy”). Marijuana is the dried flowers of the hemp plant and also is regularly smoked to develop euphoria. The active ingredient in marijuana is referred to as THC and can create distortions in the perception of time, can create a feeling of rambling, unrelated thoughts, and is sometimes linked with increased hunger or excessive laughter. The use and also possession of marijuana is illegal in most places but this shows up to be a tendency that is changing. Uruguay, Bangladesh, and also several of the unified States, have actually recently legalized marijuana. This might be due, in part, to changing public attitudes or to the fact that marijuana is significantly used for clinical purposes such together the administration of nausea or treating glaucoma.


Depressants room substances that, together their name suggests, slow down the body physiology and also mental processes. Alcohol is the many widely supplied depressant. Alcohol’s results include the palliation of inhibition, an interpretation that intoxicated people are an ext likely to act in means they would certainly otherwise be wake up to. Alcohol’s psychological effects are the an outcome of it boosting the neurotransmitter GABA. There are additionally physical effects, such as loss the balance and also coordination, and these stem indigenous the means that alcohol interferes through the coordination of the visual and also motor solution of the brain. Regardless of the truth that alcohol is so widely embraced in numerous cultures the is additionally associated through a selection of dangers. First, alcohol is toxic, meaning that the acts choose a poison because it is feasible to drink more alcohol than the body can successfully remove indigenous the bloodstream. Once a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) get .3 come .4% over there is a severe risk the death. Second, the lack of judgment and physical control connected with alcohol is associated with much more risk taking behavior or dangerous actions such as drunk driving. Finally, alcohol is addictive and also heavy drinkers frequently experience significant interference through their capacity to work efficiently or in your close relationships.

Other usual depressants encompass opiates (also referred to as “narcotics”), which space substances synthesized native the poppy flower. Opiates stimulate endorphin production in the brain and thus they are often used as pain killers by medical professionals. Unfortunately, since opiates such together Oxycontin therefore reliably produce euphoria lock are significantly used—illegally—as entertain substances. Opiates are very addictive.

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Caffeine is the many widely spend stimulant in the world. Be honest, how numerous cups that coffee, tea, or power drinks have actually you had actually today?

Stimulants are substances that “speed up” the body physiological and also mental processes. Two frequently used stimulants space caffeine—the drug found in coffee and tea—and nicotine, the active drug in cigarettes and also other tobacco products. This substances are both legal and reasonably inexpensive, leading to their prevalent use. Many civilization are attractive to stimulants due to the fact that they feel an ext alert as soon as under the influence of these drugs. Together with any type of drug there are health and wellness risks associated with consumption. Because that example, excessive consumption of these varieties of stimulants can an outcome in anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. Similarly, smoking cigarettes—the most common way of eat nicotine—is connected with higher risks that cancer. Because that instance, among heavy smokers 90% of lung cancer is straight attributable to smoking cigarettes (Stewart & Kleihues, 2003).

over there are other stimulants such together cocaine and also methamphetamine (also recognized as “crystal meth” or “ice”) that are illegal substances that are commonly used. These substances plot by blocking “re-uptake” that dopamine in the brain. This means that the mind does not naturally clear the end the dopamine and also that it builds up in the synapse, producing euphoria and alertness. Together the results wear off it stimulates solid cravings for an ext of the drug. Thus these an effective stimulants are highly addictive.


When friend think about your everyday life the is basic to gain lulled right into the belief that there is one “setting” because that your conscious thought. That is, you likely think that you organize the exact same opinions, values, and also memories throughout the day and also throughout the week. But “you” are favor a dimmer switch on a light that deserve to be rotate from full darkness significantly on increase to full brightness. This move is consciousness. At her brightest setting you are totally alert and also aware; in ~ dimmer setups you space day dreaming; and also sleep or being knocked unconscious represent dimmer setups still. The level to i beg your pardon you are in high, medium, or low says of conscious awareness affect how prone you space to persuasion, exactly how clear your referee is, and how much information you can recall. Expertise levels that awareness, then, is in ~ the heart of understanding how we learn, decide, remember and also many other vital psychological processes.

Outside Resources

App: visual illusions because that the iPad. A exorbitant book about how small we know about ourselves: Wilson, T. D. (2004). Strangers come ourselves. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university Press. an additional wonderful book about cost-free will—or its absence?: Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of aware will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Warning - some people may uncover the adhering to content distressing. Video: Howie Mandel from America\\\\\\\"s got Talent gift hypnotized into shaking hands through people: