Lecture: Consciousness
Reading Assignment 17: Remembering,...
Misremembering, and Forgetting (pp. 290-301)
Click for Objectives for Reading Assignment 17

The seventeenth reading assignment explores REM Sleep and some of the research practices that have been used to investigate them. As you read this, you probably are, to a certain extent, already aware of varying States of Consciousness. When we are sleep, humans typically drift in and out of REM Sleep throughout a good night of sleep.

To read and fully comprehend a passage, we require a certain level of alertness. Attempting to read while you are in need of sleep will not promote comprehension. For many, it may prove useful to be aware of your Circadian Rhythm when you make a decision to read or prepare for an exam. There are certain points in the day that are ideal for different types of task and they have been known to differ across individuals. Insomnia, the inability to sleep, can be a possible side effect of a person going against or ignoring their Circadian Rhythm.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will use the three distinctions proposed by Sigmund Freud to distinguish our mental systems, mental processes, or levels of consciousness: Conscious Mental Processes, Preconscious Mental Processes, and Unconscious Mental Processes. Please note that depending on which psychological theory you adopt, the peculiarities in the distinction and the distinctions themselves about the levels of consciousness may differ. Although the distinctions proposed by Sigmund Freud are the most popular, they are not the first.

Some of William Jamesearliest writings compared human Consciousness to a flowing river. Such an analogy is applicable on several different levels; I will only list three of them here. First, a river never freezes and is constantly in motion - as is our consciousness. Second, the flow of a river cannot be stopped and will merely change its course or flow – much like our awareness that will focus on a different path if it encounters a roadblock. Third, the constant flow of water can alter the shape of rocks over time – much like our awareness can alter our perception of the world over time. Much like William James early writings about consciousness, more can be said about the analogy. Although extremely fascinating and very pertinent to our day-to-day lives, the role of Conscious Mental Processes in therapy is minuscule and thought by many to be insignificant.

Although pertinent to our day-to-day lives, not everything in our immediate surroundings can be attended to. Ignoring something is one thing; however, a person may display Selective Inattention when focusing on a stimulus that may provoke too much anxiety. However, research has shown that certain stimuli are much more difficult to ignore. For instance, it is often very difficult for people to hold a conversation amidst the loud surrounding commotion at a social gathering. However, most people are able to drown out the competing noise and listen to their intended conversation; a tendency referred to as the Cocktail Party Effect. Although we are able to filter out the competing information, if our first name was uttered within hearing distance our Attention would shift towards it. However, we are unable to shift our awareness to, referred to as Subliminal Perception, and are encoded as an Unconscious Mental Process.

Most people are able to shift or direct their consciousness at will. However, one of the key characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is the limited or fleeting ability to direct their own Attention. Many people may have heard statements suggesting that blondes or blonde haired individuals have more fun; the flip side of that stereotype is also that blondes are so intellectually inferior that they cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. When an individual is walking and chewing gum at the same time, they are engaging in Divided Attention task. Whether the person is aware of it or not, when engaging in the Divided Attention tasks, neither the walking or chewing gum is getting the individuals full Attention.

Psychological researchers have developed techniques and procedures for investigating Consciousness or Conscious Mental Processes. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome when investigating consciousness, is the simple fact that we can observe or ordinarily know with much certainty what is occurring in our consciousness; that is, unless we arrange some control over the situation. For example, if a participant is asked to listen to the narrative of book via headphones how is anyone else to know if they are indeed listening. We could have them answer questions after listening to it; however, many of us know all too well that test performance is not a perfect measure of whether a person ever attended to the information. Many researchers would have them perform Shadowing. If the researcher has a transcript of the recording and they never were exposed to it before, the only way that they could successful perform the task is if they are attending to the recording. Researchers began to become savvy in their use of headphones and might also resort to a Dichotic Listening Task.



A. Lefton, L.A. & Brannon, L. (2003). Psychology (8th Ed.). Allyn & Bacon: Pearson Education, Inc.

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